Hong Kong Popular Culture: Worlding Film, Television, and Pop Music (Hong Kong Studies Reader Series) 9811388164, 9789811388163

This book traces the evolution of the Hong Kong’s popular culture, namely film, television and popular music (also known

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Table of contents :
Hong Kong Popular Culture
Hong Kong Studies Reader Series
On Translation and Romanization
Praise for Hong Kong Popular Culture
List of Figures
List of Tables
Chapter 1: Introduction
Worlding Hong Kong Popular Culture
Studying Hong Kong
A Meeting Place
Studying Popular Culture
Studying Hong Kong Popular Culture
Sinophone Anchors Hong Kong Popular Culture
“Chinese” and Sinophone
Hong Kong and Sinophone
Hong Kong Primes East Asian Culture Circle
Significance of Hong Kong Popular Culture Studies
Overview of the Book
Chapter 2: Making Hong Kong Film
Chapter Overview
Early Cine-Scene in Hong Kong
Pioneers of the Film Industry
The First Co-production?
Lai Brothers in Shanghai and Hong Kong
The First Golden Age of Film Industry
Banning Cantonese Film and the Lurking War
Post-War Revival
Hong Kong Films in the Cold War
Cleaning-Up Movement and Pre-pay System
From Industrial Revival to Prosperity—The 1960s
Urban Exuberance in Cantonese Films
Giants from Southeast Asia
A New Page in the 1970s
New Challenger
March to Hollywood and East Asia
The Hong Kong New Wave
Climax and Decline—The 1990s
The Theater-Driven Film Business
A Mixture of Ecstasy and Anxiety
Love, Hate, Lost
1997 Dis-illusion—Hong Kong in fin de siècle
From Hong Kong, New Stars on World Stage
History and Memory: Present and Past
Industrial Eclipse: Preliminary Observation
Withering of Equilibrium
Real Estate Matters
Piracy Enters the Market
Insights from Insiders
Ceasing Overseas Markets
CEPA and the Future of Hong Kong Film
CEPA Lands in Hong Kong
Never Cross the Redline
Post-CEPA Local Applause
Concluding Remarks
Chapter 3: Worlding Hong Kong Film
Chapter Overview
The Golden Triangle of Early Film Development
Sheng-Gang-Ao: Cultural Circle
Cantonese Circle in Shanghai
Shaw Family, Tianyi and the First Cantonese Feature Film
National Defense Films in the Sino-Japan War
Hong Kong Film and “China” in Contestation
The Right Camp
The Leftist Camp
Films from Divergent Political Camps
The Dissolved Politicization and New Attempt of Co-production
Mania of Hong Kong Films in Mainland China
Hong Kong-Taiwan Connection
Amoy Film Legend
Hong Kong Film in Cold War Taiwan
Hong Kong Blockbusters in Taiwan
Whirlwind Blows the Cross-Strait Film Industry
Transnational Cantonese Opera and Early Films
Border-Crossing Stars: From Stage to Silver Screen
All-Time Vogue: The Love Parade
Cultural-Technological Fusion
Early Hong Kong Films Across the Pacific Ocean
American Chinese and Grand View Film Company
Building Theaters on Foreign Lands
Hong Kong Film in Oceania
Kung Fu Mania in North America
Kung Fu and Nationalism
Asiatic Adventure of Hong Kong Film
Shaw: A Legend Family
Diasporic Imagination and Hong Kong Film
Hong Kong and Nanyang: Filmic Imagination and Industrial Networks
Hong Kong and Dongyang: Filmic Connections of Japan
Hong Kong-South Korea Connection
Vietnam Market
Philippines Market
Merry Goes Round: Contemporary Co-production in Millenniums
Pan-Asian Production
CEPA and Co-production
Concluding Remarks: Sinophone Hub and Global Influencer
Chapter 4: Making Hong Kong TV
Chapter Overview
Broadcast in the Early Days
Post-War Broadcast
Arrival of the First Commercial Radio
Broadcasting Language and Fermentation of Cultural Taste
Competitive Broadcasting Industry
New Company and New Technology
Golden Age of Broadcast Soap Opera
Audience Survey
Entering the Age of Television
First Television Station in the City
Notes on the Role of Hong Kong Television
First Wireless Television
TV Drama Culture and Hong Kong Local Culture
Industrial Pioneer—Jade Theater
Synergy Effect from TV Dramas and Theme Songs
Cascade of TV Drama Competition
The Short-Lived But GroundBreaking CTV
From RHK to RTHK
Debates About Changing Role of RHK
Below the Lion Rocks
Dynamics Behind the Scene in RTHK Series
Gallants’ Duel in the 1980s
Mogul TVB
Struggling of RTV/ATV
Television and Sound Broadcasting Survey 1984
Making of Hong Kong Identity Category
Drawing a Salient Boundary
Identity Boundary Making Through “Ah Chian”
Negotiated TV Texts
Re-presenting Hong Kong
Withering Hong Kong TV Culture?
Changing Viewing Habit and Changing Demography
Television Appreciation Index
The Comes and Goes in the TV Market
Withdrawal of ATV
Cable TV Service
Long Overdue New Comer
Concluding Remarks
Chapter 5: Worlding Hong Kong TV
Chapter Overview
Ideological Frontier and Information Hub
Frontier in Wartime
A Frontier in Cold War
Pragmatic Language Policy
From Multi-Language to Cantonese Broadcast
Border-Crossing Business and Cultural Impact
TVB Overseas Business
TVB and Taiwan Market
Global Reach—ATV
Intra-Asian Cultural Flow
Japanese Cultural Marker in Hong Kong
Sonic Scape in Southeast Asia
Window to/of China
From Illegal Antenna to Guangdong Cable
Foreign Broadcasters Landing in PRC
Visual-Sonic Prevalence of Hong Kong Television in Guangdong
Hong Kong Television as Mid-Way House in China
Mainland Television Industry Inspired by Hong Kong
Hong Kong-China Encounters on Screen
Changing Images of Mainlanders
Flows of Cultural Exchange
Hong Kong-China Co-production
Changes of Regional Landscape: An Alarming Backdrop
Commercially Driven Nationalism
Narrating “Family”: Nation-Making in Co-production
Rescaling the Local and National
Concluding Remarks
Chapter 6: Making Cantopop
Chapter Overview
Defining Cantopop
Early Stage of Cantonese Popular Songs
Formation and Promotion of Cantonese Popular Song
Westernize the Tradition
When Film Meets Popular Song
Age of Originality
The “Inferior” Cantonese Popular Songs
The Vibrant 1960s
Radio Sounds That Filled the Air
Fad of Cantonese Films and Cantonese Sing-Song Film
Breakthroughs in the 1970s
Television Drama Theme Songs
Debut of Cantopop Pioneer
Recording TV Theme Songs
Film Song Pops
As Popular as Down to Earth
Epitomizing Cantopop
The Heyday of Cantopop in the 1980s
Staging of Megastars
Local and International Record Labels
Cross-Media Stardom in the Making
Cantopop on Billboards
Fanatic Showbiz
Short-Lived Heteroglossia in Band Sound
Wind Still Blows in the 1990s
Voice of Democracy
Singing with Karaoke
All-Chinese-Song Movement
Heavenly Kings and Queens
Stars Beyond the Singing Kings and Queens
New Comers
Downturn of the Industry
Dimming the Neon
Cantopop in the Millenniums
Conglomerate-Driven Stardom
A Beautiful Sunset, But Never a Dawn
New Generation of Cantopop Crusaders
Concluding Remarks
Chapter 7: Worlding Cantopop
Chapter Overview
Early Stage of Cantonese Pop
The Latest-Type Ballad
Revolving the Music Techno-Scene
Hub of International Record Labels
Local Record Label and New Trials
From Shanghai to Hong Kong
New Voice from Shanghai
New Voice Re-settled in the Colony
Hidden Gems from the Pacific-Filipino Musicians
Sounds from the Pacific
The Fabulous Band Scene and Cross-Over
Filipino Cover Songs in Cantopop
Western Wind Blows
The “Crazy Men” Visited
Uncle Ray Is Here
The Rise of Local Youth Bands
Winds from the East Ocean
J-Pop and Cantopop
Japan Mania in TV Songs
Interlocking the Local and Global
Border-Crossing “TV Heroes”
Cantopop Wave in Southeast Asia
Learning from World-Leading Players
From Hong Kong to World Stages
Expanded Yet Contested Market
Two-Sided Albums: Cantopop-Mandapop
China Wind
Controversial Staging in Mainland Singing Contests
Concluding Remarks
Chapter 8: Epilogue
The Dilemma
Public Policy
Hardware for Popular Culture Activities
Popular Music and TV Culture Policy
Film Policy
Public Policies of Film Exhibition and Exportation
Voices from the Industry
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Hong Kong Popular Culture Worlding Film, Television, and Pop Music

Klavier J. Wang

Hong Kong Studies Reader Series Series Editors Brian C. H. Fong Academy of Hong Kong Studies The Education University of Hong Kong Tai Po, Hong Kong Tai-Lok Lui Academy of Hong Kong Studies The Education University of Hong Kong Tai Po, Hong Kong Stephen Chiu Academy of Hong Kong Studies The Education University of Hong Kong Tai Po, Hong Kong

In recent years, Hong Kong society has undergone significant political, economic and social changes. Hong Kong Studies, as an interdisciplinary field of area studies that takes “Hong Kong” as a central subject of analysis, has become the focus of attention for both locals and non-locals from different backgrounds. There is a growing demand from local and non-­ local students, school teachers, scholars, policy researchers, journalists, politicians and businessmen to understand the development of Hong Kong in a more systematic way. The Hong Kong Studies Reader Series is designed to address this pressing need by publishing clear, concise and accessible readers to key areas of Hong Kong Studies including politics, history, culture, media, etc. The series aims to offer English-Chinese-­ Japanese trilingual guides to anyone who is interested in understanding and researching Hong Kong. More information about this series at http://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/15923

Klavier J. Wang

Hong Kong Popular Culture Worlding Film, Television, and Pop Music

Klavier J. Wang Tisch School of the Arts New York University New York, NY, USA

ISSN 2523-7764     ISSN 2523-7772 (electronic) Hong Kong Studies Reader Series ISBN 978-981-13-8816-3    ISBN 978-981-13-8817-0 (eBook) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8817-0 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: © Yuji Sakai / Getty Images This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. The registered company address is: 152 Beach Road, #21-­01/04 Gateway East, Singapore 189721, Singapore

Hong Kong Studies Reader Series

Hong Kong Studies is an interdisciplinary field of area studies that takes “Hong Kong” as a central subject of analysis. In recent years, Hong Kong society has undergone significant political, economic and social changes, making Hong Kong Studies the focus of attention for people both inside and outside Hong Kong. As a result, there is a growing demand from local and non-local students, school teachers, scholars, policy researchers, journalists, politicians and businesspeople to understand the transformation of Hong Kong in a more systematic way. The Hong Kong Studies Reader Series is designed to address this pressing need. By publishing clear, concise and accessible readers on key areas of Hong Kong Studies ranging from politics and history to society and culture, we aim at offering academic guides to anyone who is interested in understanding and researching Hong Kong. For Hong Kong Studies, it is probably the best of times.



Hong Kong Studies Reader Series

The Academy of Hong Kong Studies (AHKS), established in July 2015, is the first, and so far only, academy dedicated to fostering Hong Kong Studies within local tertiary institutions. Adopting the strategic direction of “Worlding Hong Kong Studies”, the AHKS drives interdisciplinary knowledge creation and transfer initiatives on Hong Kong-centric subjects and fosters the development of a “cross-regional Hong Kong Studies research community”. https://www.eduhk.hk/ahks Academy of Hong Kong Studies, The Education University of Hong Kong, Tai Po, Hong Kong The Hong Kong Institute of Education, Tai Po, Hong Kong

Brian C.H. Fong Tai-lok Lui Stephen Chiu

On Translation and Romanization

Translations from Chinese materials to English are based on several rules. Translation of Chinese film titles is consistent with the “Hong Kong Filmography” published by the Hong Kong Film Archive. The original Chinese film titles presented in pinyin and original Chinese characters are also given following the English translation. Translations of television drama titles, song album titles and song titles are mostly mine unless another translation version is available from the production entity (e.g. TV drama When Heaven Burns/Tian Yu Di 天與地). Similar to the translation of film titles, pinyin transcription and original Chinese characters of the titles follow English translations. Names of people from Hong Kong are generally Romanized and presented according to the style commonly used in Hong Kong. Some go with English first name followed by Chinese surname (e.g. Bruce Lee, Leslie Cheung), while some follow the original order in which surname goes before first name (e.g. Ng Cho-fan, Wong Kar-wai). Names of people from mainland China are usually transcribed according to the pinyin system (e.g. Cai Chusheng, Ruan Lingyu). Special cases such as film stars who are known to the world by their stage name are directly Romanized according to the Cantonese or Mandarin pronunciation (e.g. Kong Suet, Siu Yin Fei). The different treatments on the translations are based on how these people are conventionally known to the society and thus transliterated according to the Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland Chinese or Southeastern Asian Romanization system. For the sake of clarity, Chinese characters are supplemented following the translation. vii


First and foremost, I cannot express enough gratitude for the generous intellectual, material and affective support from the Academy of Hong Kong Studies (AHKS), the Education University of Hong Kong. Without the consistent and generous support from AHKS, I could not have produced this monograph. The AHKS is the first ever and still the only Hong Kong-based institution that is dedicated to fostering Hong Kong Studies within local tertiary institutions. Embracing the “worlding Hong Kong studies” mission, the AHKS drives interdisciplinary knowledge creation and transfer initiatives on Hong Kong-centric subjects and fosters the development of a “cross-regional Hong Kong Studies research community”. This mission neatly interlocks with my overall academic pursuit in popular culture research and Hong Kong history, especially in terms of how Hong Kong has been playing a crucial role in converging talents of multi-ethnicities and spreading “culture made-in Hong Kong” to the world. It is indeed a tremendous honor for me to be AHKS’s first postdoctoral research fellow and to be granted sufficient room and resources to bring this mission into action–the production of this monograph, Hong Kong Popular Culture: Worlding films, television and pop music. My privilege and precious opportunity as a new PhD graduate back in 2016 when I joined the AHKS are concretized by the provision of this book project under the groundbreaking book series Hong Kong Studies Reader Series edited by Dr Brian C. H. Fong, Professor Lui Tai-lok and Professor Stephen Chiu Wing-kai. Acclaimed scholars on Hong Kong society and cultural development, Professors Lui and Chiu have always been such illuminating mentors, and I owe them my greatest gratitude. I ix



am also indebted to Dr Brian Fong for his never-failing support and encouragement on my prolonged information gathering, book planning and writing journey. At the juncture that Hong Kong, after 20 years of her reversion to the People’s Republic of China’s sovereignty, is experiencing an identity crisis and has witnessed flows of social movements that demand larger room for democratization and political freedom, the inauguration of the Hong Kong Studies Reader Series is a timely contribution. I join force to respond to the call of time by completing this book, recounting, re-discovering and re-positioning Hong Kong popular culture as the crown jewel to the city and a (hidden) gem to regional and world cultural scape. Special thanks also go to scholarly advisors, colleagues and friends who have offered me valuable and constructive ideas, comments and suggestions at different stages of the book composition: Professor Chris Berry, Dr Chow Yiu Fai, Professor Chu Yiu-Wai, Professor Francis Lee Lap Fung, Dr Stephanie Ng Yuet-wah, Dr Enoch Tam Yee-lok and Professor David Der-wei Wang. In addition, encouragement and intellectual spark could always be obtained from heart-warming conversations with Professor Anthony Fung Ying Him, who led me down the road of popular culture research back to my Masters degree studies; Professor Eric Ma Kit-wai, my qualitative research method teacher who motivates me through his inspiring life experience and teaching methods; and Professor Ng Chun Hung, whose Hong Kong popular culture research works laid the founding stone in this field. Notably, insightful views from anonymous reviewers at the early stage of my book manuscript preparation helped me better craft the book structure and focal points. This book takes a century-long journey of Hong Kong’s popular culture development and its profound connection with the world. Standing on giants’ shoulders–the prolific and extensive literatures on Hong Kong film, television and popular music studies contributed by scholars from Hong Kong and abroad–I have been deeply enlightened by not only the focus from academic and mass publications, but also the arresting history of Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s popular culture is a hallmark of the city. To further enrich the landscape of this area, I sought assistance from a large variety of organizations whose treasured archival resources, historical records and statistical data made the completion of this book possible. I express my gratitude for the support and courtesy provided by these organizations: Special Collections at the University of Hong Kong Libraries, The Ephemera Archive at Chao Center for Asian Studies at Rice University,



The Hong Kong Film Archive, the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Association, Hong Kong Box Office Limited, Broadway Circuit (Hong Kong), CreateHK of the Hong Kong government, Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services Department of the Hong Kong government, Census and Statistics Department of the Hong Kong government, the Hong Kong Public Records Office, the Taiwan Film Institute and The National Archives (London, England). As the book also includes the latest developments in Hong Kong popular culture, I gathered valuable opinions from professionals who are working in the industry. Here I express my gratitude to Au Man-kit, Chan Chi-fat, Dr Chow Yiu Fai, Jess Leung, Tessa Lau, Gary Mak, Ng Ka-leung, Vicky Wong, Adam Wong and other anonymous interviewees who generously shared with me behind-the-scenes insights. Some data-compiling jobs for this book were completed by my intern at AHKS, Mark Garcia, who is passionate about Hong Kong culture. I owe a million thanks to my beloved colleagues at AHKS during the years I have been engaged in this book project, who have never failed to give me endless encouragement and back-up. Last but not least, I thank my husband Ben and my family’s unreserved love.

Praise for Hong Kong Popular Culture “In Hong Kong Popular Culture, Klavier Wang sets out to examine a broad range of Hong Kong popular culture from film texts, TV images, to popular music. Based on a historical perspective, Wang showcases how Hong Kong popular culture serves as collective memory of Hong Kong’s cultural identity and transforming values and everyday life culture.” —Anthony Y. H. Fung, Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, The Chinese University of Hong Kong “In this path-breaking book, Klavier Wang takes on an intriguing project to document and historicize ‘the understudied while enthralling “global-ness” of Hong Kong popular culture’. This is a very challenging task as the topic has been glaringly left out by the English-speaking academic community. Having set a valuable standard for Hong Kong studies, the book provides an essential guide to popular cultural products and icons of the city through vivid accounts of Hong Kong film, television, pop music, and their worldings. This framework offers not only signposts to the study of Hong Kong popular culture, but also theoretical routes into Hong Kong studies as an academic discipline. Thoroughly engaged with the existing scholarships in related areas, this book contributes enormously to our understanding of how its popular culture has promoted the brand name of Hong Kong to audiences around the world. Besides the fascinating cultural treasure hunt that will generate renewed interest in Hong Kong, the inclusion of educational elements–such as further reading materials and discussion questions–is also a remarkable undertaking. They are useful to common readers as well as researchers who would have the chance to reflect on their perceptions of Hong Kong from different perspectives. Informative, enjoyable and long overdue, this book is a must read for anyone who is interested in Hong Kong culture and related topics.” —Yiu Wai Chu, Professor, School of Modern Languages and Cultures (Hong Kong Studies), The University of Hong Kong “Interests in Hong Kong’s film, pop music and television are plenty and yet few attempts have been made to offer an integrated account of its popular culture. Klavier Wang takes up the challenge and presents her insights to us about how to understand the worlding of Hong Kong’s popular culture. Her analysis is solidly grounded on an account of the historical development of film, pop music and television. At the same time, she is able to highlight the distinctive features of Hong Kong’s popular culture at the levels of industry and organization. More specifically, she sees its development as contextualized in a global setting. This is

both an introductory text for understanding Hong Kong’s popular culture and a monograph that researchers in the areas of cultural studies, East Asian studies, and media studies will refer to.” —Tai-lok Lui, Chair Professor of Hong Kong Studies, The Education University of Hong Kong


1 Introduction  1 2 Making Hong Kong Film 33 3 Worlding Hong Kong Film117 4 Making Hong Kong TV217 5 Worlding Hong Kong TV295 6 Making Cantopop341 7 Worlding Cantopop409 8 Epilogue455 Index487


List of Figures

Image 2.1 Ngan Mok Street 36 Image 2.2 Advertisement of Edison’s Kinetophone exhibition in Hong Kong37 Image 2.3 Booklet of World Theater No.41, August 16, 1928 42 Image 2.4 Apollo Theatre in 1960s 79 Image 2.5 State Theater at North Point 81 Fig. 2.1 Composition of cinema chains in the 1990s 82 Fig. 2.2 Box-office change of Hong Kong and foreign films 91 Image 2.6 State Theater in the 1990s 94 Image 2.7 Mini-theater of BC 96 Image 2.8 Leisure space BC 97 Image 2.9 First Art House BC 98 Fig. 3.1 Number of films screened in Taiwan—Hong Kong films and Taiwan films 151 Fig. 3.2 Change of price of exported Hong Kong films in Taiwan 152 Image 3.1 Clear Water Bay Film Studio of Shaw Brothers 174 Fig. 3.3 A general picture of domestic exportation of Hong Kong exposed and developed films 199 Fig. 3.4 Re-export of exposed or developed film 201 Fig. 3.5 Re-export of exposed or developed film 202 Image 4.1 Citizens living at rural Wang Toi Shan area 232 Image 4.2 Communities under the Lion Rocks in the 1960s 252 Image 4.3 Lion Rocks with banner 257 Fig. 5.1 Change of TVB business annual turnover 309 Fig. 5.2 Change of TVB overseas business annual turnover 310 Image 6.1 Tatming and Chow Yiu Fai 380



List of Figures

Image 6.2 Fig. 6.1 Fig. 6.2 Image 6.3 Image 6.4 Image 7.1 Image 8.1 Image 8.2 Image 8.3 Image 8.4

Lyrics from Beyond’s Hit Song Recording industry in numbers—album unit sales Recording industry in numbers—album retail value Photo Album of Twins Chow Yiu Fai and Anthony Wong Columbia-Wo Shing production label CityHall in the 1960s Pigture film studio established by Chan Chi Fat Chow Yiu Fai WeWillBeBack

383 394 395 398 404 418 461 475 477 480

List of Tables

Table 2.1 Table 2.2 Table 2.3 Table 2.4

Early images of Hong Kong 38 Hong Kong Films before the anti-Japan war 47 Genres of Hong Kong films in the pre-war period 47 Hong Kong  Films in different languages in the post-war period60 Table 2.5 Total number of films produced annually—in comparison (1950s–1980s)60 Table 2.6 Productions of major film companies, 1957–1970 68 Table 2.7 Number of Cantonese and Mandarin films in the 1960s and 1970s68 Table 2.8 Exhibition of Hong Kong films and Foreign Films in the 1990s and 2000s 86 Table 2.9 Changes of revenue from overseas markets 100 Table 2.10 Number of Hong Kong films after CEPA (including Hong Kong films and co-production films) 106 Table 3.1 Production of films in Shanghai and Hong Kong before and during wartime 128 Table 3.2 Mainland film industry collaborated with Hong Kong and Taiwan140 Table 3.3 Box Office in Taiwan—Hong Kong films and Taiwan-invested Hong Kong films (thousand, New Taiwan Dollars) 154 Table 3.4 Population of Sino-population in Southeast Asia in 1970 178 Table 3.5 Percentage of different linguistic groups among Sinopopulation in Southeast Asia in 1950 188 Table 3.6 Box office performance of Hong Kong films 196




Table 3.7

A general picture of domestic exportation of Hong Kong exposed and developed films over and less than 35  mm in width (measured in quantity and value) 198 Table 3.8 Imports and Exports of Videotapes, Laser Disks and Other Compact Disks (HKD) 200 Table 3.9 Changes of major buyers of Hong Kong domestic exported films (values of films exported to different countries) 203 Table 3.10 Changes of major buyers of Hong Kong domestic exported films (values and quantities of films exported to different countries)205 Table 4.1 Development of early broadcasting in Hong Kong 220 Table 4.2 Number of household TV set 234 Table 4.3 Annual loss of RTV/ATV 243 Table 4.4 Net profit of TVB 1979–1994 (Hong Kong dollar)  258 Table 4.5 Viewership of Chinese television channels 260 Table 4.6 Annual loss of ATV 1988–1991 260 Table 4.7 Audience viewing preference survey 262 Table 4.8 TV program genre preference by people of different occupations263 Table 4.9 Viewing rate of ATV and TVB 1982–1991 272 Table 4.10 Viewing rate of TVB’s Miss Hong Kong Pageant final contest 272 Table 4.11 Percentage of working women of different ages 273 Table 4.12 TVB Jade audience viewing behavior 274 Table 4.13 Development of home video and video-leasing shops 274 Table 4.14 Hong Kong Television Appreciation Index 2000–2016 277 Table 5.1 Change of TVB overseas market turnover 308 Table 5.2 Change of TVB overseas market turnover 309 Table 5.3 Television dramas imported by ATV 312 Table 5.4 Viewership of foreign  (including Hong Kong) and local television programs in Guangdong 319 Table 5.5 Viewership of Hong Kong television programs in Guangdong (in comparison with CCTV channels) 319 Table 5.6 Viewership of television dramas of top 5 popular channels in 2004321 Table 5.7 Roles of mainland Chinese in Hong Kong television dramas 325 Table 6.1 Number of gold or platinum TV song albums 362 Table 6.2 Number of gold discs obtained by different local singers (1977)366 Table 6.3 Number of gold discs obtained by different local singers (1978)367 Table 6.4 Number of gold and platinum discs obtained by local singers 376

  List of Tables 

Table 6.5 Table 6.6 Table 8.1


Sales of Cantopop albums (1988–95) 381 Sales and revenue of Cantopop albums (1995–1998) 392 Total number of cinemas and seats by year between 2005 and 2015470



A documentary titled Havana Divas/Guba Huadan 古巴花旦 (2018) made headlines in various film review outlets. The film unmasks intriguing life stories of two Cuban ladies who acquired Cantonese opera singing skills from their Guangdong-origin parents—members of the non-ceasing and massive migrant flow in the late nineteenth century who departed from South China to North and South American countries. Brought to the land full of waving palm trees and sugarcanes from across the Pacific were thousands of cheap laborers and their folk culture originating in the South China cultural circle. Cantonese opera was the most popular leisure activity. Following the advancement of filming technology, Cantonese opera sing-song film became a dominant genre and, interestingly, this distinctive film genre turned out to be one of the earliest cultural products that generated border-crossing impact. Hong Kong film is the one and only genre that takes its name from a city instead of a state (e.g. French film) or an industrial region (e.g. Hollywood film). Even though a subject of dispute and even called by the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, “The Controversial Centenary of Hong Kong Cinema”, the 100-year Hong Kong Cinema exhibition received a grand opening at the breathtaking Carlton Beach during the 2009 Cannes International Film Festival. While the so-called centenary anniversary in 2009, which was endorsed by the government-funded Hong Kong Film Development Council, was under criticism and deserves more scrupulous scrutiny, there is already plenty to be celebrated as Hong Kong cinema represents one of the oldest shops in the global industry. © The Author(s) 2020 K. J. Wang, Hong Kong Popular Culture, Hong Kong Studies Reader Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8817-0_1




In 2007, Hollywood blockbuster The Departed (2007) won the best director award in the 79th Oscar Academy Awards. The Departed is a remake of the Hong Kong crime-thriller movie Infernal Affairs/Wu Jian Dao 無 間道 (2006). Equally appealing to foreign audiences yet on a lesser scale, Hong Kong’s popular music, aka Cantopop, is another Hong Kong trademark. On April Fools’ Day, since 2003, Hong Kong welcomes folks from Japan and South Korea, mostly middle-aged ladies, to a special concert. The singer is only seen on a huge screen, and his smile and eye contact always seems so close to the screaming audience. Flowers are placed in front of the screen instead of being handed to the virtuoso singer. Befuddling yet heartbreaking, this virtual concert annually entices fans, home and abroad, to share deep remembrances of their beloved deceased super star—Leslie Cheung (張國榮), who leapt to his death from a height on April Fools’ Day in 2003 as a result of depression. Similarly but in a different way, a landmark song also achieved great success. A pro-democracy social movement (aka Umbrella Movement) drew the global spotlight in 2014. Records show that over one million people took part in the city’s largest activism event, among who were a number of household names: lyrist Albert Leung (林夕), singer Denise Ho (何韻詩), singer Anthony Wong (黃耀明), actress Deanie Ip (葉德嫻) and a lot more. Hoist the Umbrella/Chengqi Yusan 撐起雨傘, a pop song was collectively composed and performed as a token to this uprising. A popular cultural and social influencer, this song was awarded the Most Popular Song (我最喜愛歌曲) in the 2014 Ultimate Song Chart Awards Presentation. Collective action is not new to this city, which, as shown in the above case, actually makes an alternative stage for popular culture. “I want to watch TV”, “Give me back the HKTV”, over a 100,000 protesters chanted in front of the government headquarters, as a movement that supported licensing to Hong Kong TV Network (HKTV) corporation reached its zenith. Living in a city populated by 7  million residents, Hong Kong people finally got the chance to enjoy their third free-to-air television network in 2013. When the perceived mostly well-prepared corporation HKTV failed to be granted the free television license, for the first time, Hong Kong citizens took to the streets for the sake of “TV watching”, which, ironically, represents one of the most well-established popular cultural activities that is said to have epitomized a Hong Kong taste throughout the last half century. Outcry from the public, more often than not, is mingled with popular cultural products. “This city is dying”, a thunderous line from a legacy-like Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) television drama When Heaven ­Burns/



Tian yu Di 天與地 (2011) which eventually became talk of the town due to the bold steps taken by the script writers in touching various local political issues, embodying the public discourse at the time which was largely overshadowed by unfinished demands of a democratic election system.

Worlding Hong Kong Popular Culture A brief scanning of the above popular culture anecdotes suggests compelling allegorical reflections of historical, political-economic, social and cultural developments locally, regionally and globally. Hong Kong popular culture, namely film, television drama and popular music, is a mirror of socio-historical trends and more importantly, a world-traveling vessel. Once overlooked by the colonial government and ordinary population, popular culture derived from Hong Kong has generated, aside from economic profits alone, far-reaching cultural and political influences. These influences have sprawled beyond nation-state borders and ethnic-cultural barriers. Chapter by chapter, this book will unveil how  Hong Kong’s popular cultural products and virtuoso cultural icons have branded the city and promoted the Hong Kong brand name to overseas audience. This is the premise from which the cultural journey depicted in this book sails off. While extended studies derived from different disciplines, especially in the realm of film studies, have established the foundation based on which this book takes a step forward, existing resources fall short in positioning Hong Kong popular culture within a wider spectrum—Hong Kong popular culture in a global scale. Although works from film studies have touched upon this subject, a void remains in studies of Hong Kong television culture and popular music: two cultural genres that actually have shaped and transformed regional and even global popular cultural landscapes. Equally important is how we re-assess “Hong Kong in the world”. It is only in recent decades that scholars (e.g. Elizabeth Sinn, Lui Tai-lok, Priscilla Roberts, John Carroll, Mark Chi-kwan) have paid special attention to the role of this tiny city in centennial world trading development, maritime history and wartime geo-politics. Intriguingly, Hong Kong is marginal and yet nodal, as is its popular culture. This seemingly self-­ contradictory claim will be presented in the book with a theme that stretches along anecdote, milestone and serial industrial transformation about how Hong Kong popular culture has mirrored the vibrant port city character with commoners of multi-backgrounds living or passing through



the land. The focal point that embroils this theme is the connection between Hong Kong and other parts of the world. Connecting to the world provides a striking outlook of Hong Kong being a polyglot city. As popular culture is rooted in people’s everyday life, which seldom exists in a social vacuum, we therefore can never treat popular culture as merely mass entertainment or profit-making merchandise, but instead must view it as an integral part that crafts and is usurped by the place, time, people and zeitgeist. By corollary, situating Hong Kong popular culture in a temporally and territorially wider angle refreshes our conceptual and pedagogical assumption of the writing and reading of the histography of Hong Kong, Sinophone community and the global cultural landscape. This book presents a chronology, if not a histography, taking readers on a riveting adventure through Hong Kong popular culture development in the home region and around the globe, from the turn of the twentieth century into the new millennium. Standing on giant’s shoulders, this book not only heavily relies on existing research findings but also delves into corporation documents, government archives, organization archives and industrial and media reports to rethink the role played by popular culture in Hong Kong and beyond. Conceptual tools from different disciplines such as history, literature and cultural studies are employed to make this expedition possible. The goal of this book is less to tout the monumental greatness of centennial Hong Kong popular culture, to lament over the bygone gilded age that marks the culmination of production and sales record, or to present a complete account on the city’s cultural history, but more to embark on an eye-opening tour in this luxuriant jungle and, to a certain extent, a treasure-­hunting journey into the understudied while enthralling “global-­ ness” of Hong Kong popular culture—worlding of Hong Kong popular culture. By using this term, I am greatly enlightened by literature scholar and a leading figure in Sinophone (Huayu Yuxi 華語語系) studies, David Der-wei Wang. He edited the latest literary history of modern China—a challenge to traditional orthodox comprehension and a leap forward to re-read Chinese literature under a global canvas. Transforming the word “world” into a verb was pioneered by Heidegger, who called attention to the way “in which the world is constructed and exists eternally in a constantly shifting state of becoming” (cited in Wang 2017, p. 13), a condition that foregrounds and evolves being-in-the-world, while the world itself is a flux of ever-renewing reality. Wang casts light on the “dynamics of the travelling and transculturation” of modern Chinese literature in



terms of not only physical mobility but also conceptual, affective and technological transmutation through space and time. Though the Heideggerian philosophical claim yields a far larger epistemological paradigm shift, here, I borrow this overarching concept to separate what this book attempts to envisage: the mutually influential forces between popular culture and serial historical and geo-political contingencies. The traveling and transculturation is vividly embodied in the development of Hong Kong popular culture. Not only do various political-social conditions lead to a trans-regional distribution network and affective impact of Hong Kong popular cultural products, it is also noteworthy that Hong Kong culture itself becomes a meeting place of multi-cultures: exchange of talents, adaptation of cultural elements and border-crossing imaginatory allegory. Thus, the “worlding” of Hong Kong popular culture at the same time echoes features that characterize the society itself: located at the edge of mainland Chinese territory, a former British colony under the laissez-faire rule and a conjunction criss-crossing different political, economic and social powers. These in-motion crescendos are thus reflected through the seemingly ambivalent yet arresting relation of the Cold War and Hong Kong film’s prevalence in Southeast Asia and Taiwan, the penetration of Hong Kong popular culture in the Greater China region under the contexts of China’s slowly unveiled door-opening policy and Taiwan’s dawn of lifting martial law, the rising of national cultural industries in former underdeveloped countries and the ceasing pace of Hong Kong popular culture’s border-crossing influence and a long list to depict the “being-in-the-world”. In the following discussion, the worlding of Hong Kong popular culture will be elaborated through a number of perspectives. First, Hong Kong as well as its popular culture embodies a meeting place of people, culture and capital from a wide array of backgrounds, and, second, it is due to this enthralling geo-political and socio-cultural nature that Hong Kong popular culture plays a special role in the Sinophone-language circle, namely and conceptually, Sinophone studies. Moreover, beyond language and cultural habitual barriers, Hong Kong popular culture in the age that witnessed the “Asian Four Tigers” taking off became a role model for the East Asian region by envisaging modernity and urbanity, values that symbolized “progression”. This was the moment during which, after Cantonese opera films, Kung Fu mania and wartime broadcasting, Hong Kong turned to a border-crossing landmark cultural trendsetter once again.



In a word, what sets Hong Kong apart from the rest of China and the world is the “worlding” of Hong Kong popular culture. This remarkable signature could never be isolated from other social institutions, namely, Hong Kong’s former colonial status, port city character and its incomparable geo-political locus at the crux of wars—a series of historical contingencies that later configure the manifestation, vision and networking system of Hong Kong’s film, television and popular music industries.

Studying Hong Kong A Meeting Place Before we delve into a discussion on popular culture, a lofty question arises: how does one describe Hong Kong? Hong Kong was once regarded a desert of culture, when compared to the so-called 5000-year-old Chinese culture. Hong Kong was once characterized by its remarkable raison d’être profit-making philosophy. A recently unearthed intriguing case of the exiled Chinese pedantic literati Wang Tao (Sinn 2017), who drastically revised his perception of Hong Kong from condemnation to admiration as time went by, vividly portrays the inferior status of Hong Kong in the eyes of the orthodox centralplain (Zhong yuan 中原) intelligentsia. Orthodox Chinese culture, in this sense, was anchored in the vast central plain along the Yellow River and the Southeast-end region along the Yangtze River. Wang was spirited to Hong Kong at the turn of the twentieth century. In the eyes of Wang, Hong Kong’s once exasperating business-oriented social state of mind and locus as an international port city turned into a buttress of rule of law and a scrupulous trading system, which added enormously to Wang’s growing sense of belonging and endeavoring self-contribution. Even though popular culture, instead of the dominant commercial culture, was barely a focus for Wang, in Sinn’s depiction, Wang found an alternative cultural taste that characterized the cityscape—“with little pretension to high culture” (means Yangtze River region literary culture from Wang’s hometown) (Sinn 2017, p.  3). Thus, a double marginality of Hong Kong is revealed geographically and culturally according to the central-plain point of view. However, any one living today must  have acknowledged: to those from other regions of China, Hong Kong’s mass cultural landscape is one that is a foreign and exotic scene made of languages, cuisines, rituals and even festivals of its own. Hong Kong, at the



turn of the century, lifted the ­curtain on a prosperous popular cultural scene—neither a copycat of Shanghai’s modern dream nor an aspiration of the then reviving Beijing opera glamour, but a Pearl River Delta personality of its own (Man 2014) plus encounters across cultures. With Cantonese opera singing and vaudeville-­filled commoners’ pastimes, cultural enjoyments derived from upper-class Englishmen, Eurasians and Chinese elites further colored the city as “a space of flow for people, goods, information, capital, objects, political ideas, social customs, religious beliefs, and much else, all shaping its evolution as a world city” (Sinn 2017, p. viii). Nevertheless, in the recent decades, people from China, Asia or even from Euro-American countries could seldom disregard the fact that Hong Kong’s fame has stretched beyond its 2754 square kilometer territory. As acknowledgment of Hong Kong’s vibrant multi-cultural bedrock and its internationally acclaimed role as a financial center, in the latest mainstream discourse, some keywords that appear in most travel guides are tradition and modernity, East meets West, gem of the Orient and paradise of shopping, to name a few. Government sectors brand the city “Asia’s World City” and “Best of All”, implicating the city’s all-encompassing character where contrast, variety, trendiness and excitement live side by side. That being said, the focusing on Hong Kong’s flamboyant cosmopolitan nature, however, simplifies the deep-seated historical sources of influence and consequences that deserve more recognition. In 2012, a Hong Kong movie Floating City/Fu Cheng 浮城 (2012) was regarded a metaphor of how the city has turned to a financial center—an anchorless floating boat (migration city) that dared not surrender to adversities (hardworking laborers create economic miracle). This film echoes a well-known commercial for HSBC (the Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation) that was launched two years before the 1997 sovereignty transition. As one of the top leading banking systems dating back to the British colonial era, HSBC is portrayed as a fisherman who overcomes ebbs and flows in the tide and strives to provide the best for his family. Through this portrayal, HSBC is not only a lifelong companion to Hong Kong, but it also takes the role of a guardian. Presented in a nostalgic tone, both the film and the commercial presented the past Hong Kong—the once humble underdog endeavoring to achieve excellence. This Cinderella-like story is often seen in mainstream discourse. While downplaying the “cosmopolitan” high pitch, such a victimized portrayal is no more than another oversimplified sketch that, to a certain



extent, hyperboles the role of economic forces and effective colonial governance. The above hackneyed description of “East meets West” and the previous Chinese/British-centered lens has been increasingly challenged by historians who otherwise probe into how Hong Kong has been made into a place of making, encountering, diffusing, engineering, adopting, resisting and reconfiguring resources of all kinds and has eventually turned into what it looked like (Sinn and Munn 2017). Hong Kong film studies scholar Esther Cheung (2001) also challenges the dominant colonialist epics that lead to a monolithic discourse of modernity-as-progress. She further argues that Hong Kong’s “local culture” is shaped by divergent historical agents as it has been shaped by the political, social and economic changes in the local context and the larger world outside. In a recently published article on one of Hong Kong’s signatures—tea café (aka caa caan teng 茶餐廳), the author, also contesting the “East meets West” discourse, vividly demonstrates how foods in tea cafes embody “hybridity as the transgression of boundaries through the negotiation of cultural differences” (Chan 2018, p. 1)—an entanglement of ethnicities and cultures. In effect, today, we are still captivated by the fact that Hong Kong stands out in the globe by exhibiting achievements of capitalistic development, a port city character that huddles a diverse cityscape of multi-­ languages, nationalities, religions and lifestyles, and the prosperity derived from over a century of non-ceasing multidirectional flow of commerce, information as well as human resources. Yet a melting pot of multiple cultures and ethnicities is, of course, not unique to Hong Kong. For better or worse, the city’s colonial past that entails a laissez-faire political-­ economic mechanism introduces to this place flexibility, hybridity and fluidity—a set of key characteristics that steers our broader vision on the interactions and cross-fertilizations between Hong Kong’s popular culture, the Hong Kong society and the larger external world. For a long time, people have taken a false zero-game assumption regarding the relationship between commerce and culture. The case of Hong Kong demonstrates the co-existence and inter-reliance of these two elements. The journey Hong Kong popular culture has taken, as will be sumptuously delineated chapter by chapter, has demonstrated that the well-maintained equilibrium in Hong Kong that its laissez-faire political-­ economic system, port city character, being a meeting place of heterogeneous forces and series of geo-political contingencies have given birth to the city’s worlding popular culture.



Studying Popular Culture The academic significance of everyday culture, termed as mass culture, popular culture or pop culture, has been legitimized in various disciplines to comprehend the structure of human sensibility. Exposed and operating popular culture, by definition, consists of humans negotiating and distinguishing between what counts as refined, learned, formal and respectable and what is perceived as mundane and commercial forms of culture— films, television dramas, popular songs and the industries embedded, respectively (Hall 1981). Popular culture encompasses the everyday life of the ordinary population’s consumption and living conditions in contradiction to and in contestation with elite culture. British cultural studies school suggests an interdisciplinary way to discover and explore culture’s role in the society and its revelation and function in the whole social system. Admittedly, the intellectual approach of cultural studies is derived from Marxism, while it tends to a neo-Marxist New Leftism. They question the reductionism and anti-humanistic features of classical Marxists, but propose the “relative autonomy” of culture (Althusser 1971, cited from Smith 2001, p. 53), that is, not only that mass culture (superstructure) is determined by the economic base, but also that the culture steers social structure and is subject to reproduction. The Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) is the cradle of cultural studies with Richard Hoggart as its first director. Hoggart, born and brought up in a working-class family, is aware of the significance of popular culture at the juncture of the post-World War II (WWII) England. In his seminal work, The Uses of Literacy (1957), he sheds light on the popular culture embraced by working-class families and neighborhoods, which is regarded as a mirror of Hoggart’s personal experience. He brings forth the sense of authenticity of this particular type of culture—working-class everyday life. Raymond Williams, another maestro of CCCS, similar to Hoggart, focuses on working-class culture and mass culture in his early work, Culture and Society (1971). Later, in Williams’s The Long Revolution (1961) he proposes the understanding of culture, which is referred to as an entire way of life. Derived from Marxist tradition, Williams  (1971) further proposes the “structure of feeling” that incorporates social structure and people’s collective everyday life into the understanding of culture. The CCCS thus brings to academia groundbreaking impact by uncovering the inherent politics and power imprinted within mass culture.



Another widely acclaimed scholar of the CCCS is Stuart Hall, who generalizes systematic studies on media text and people’s cultural life. His study on the encoding/decoding of media text brings forth the potential of the human’s active role in media reception (Hall 1980). Reaching far beyond artistic works in the high culture elitism, culture, therefore, is defined as follows: “social groups develop distinct patterns of life and give expressive form to their social and material life-experience”. Culture is able to be reproduced and transmitted. Under different social circumstances, culture “embodies the trajectory of group life through history, and always under conditions and with ‘raw materials’” (Clarke et al. 1976, pp. 10–11). A study of popular culture, by corollary, leads to an encompassing examination of the chronicle, anecdotes and milestones of the zeitgeist that is related to the on-going contestation, negotiation and conciliation between people, flows of forces from all social sectors and ideological agenda. In the context of Hong Kong, the effervescent cultural prowess inevitably and consistently encounters border-crossing flows of humans, commerce and streams of thoughts at domestic, regional and global levels.

Studying Hong Kong Popular Culture Hong Kong was conceded to the British colonial rule by China’s Qing Dynasty in 1841. While a sketchy image of this city, as aforementioned, often leads to a magic formulation: British colonizer transformed the barren rocks into a financial center. A further excursion of Hong Kong’s history could have been far more breathtaking if we zoom to the nineteenth century when this “barren village harbor” was already the hub of migration through legal and illegal activities: the emigration of cheap laborers (originated from Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian provinces) setting off to different parts of the world and entailed this labor migration flux were a large variety of local and global trades (Sinn 2012). According to historian Elizabeth Sinn, the rising of Hong Kong as a crucial trading port significantly diverted the global business trajectories from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific route, namely Pacific crossing. Hong Kong, in this sense, represents one of the earliest formed migration departing ports. Departing from Hong Kong, generations of Sinophone populations sailed afar, as did their languages, cultural habitus and lifestyles.



The history of popular culture is intricate as it convolutes with the development of human history, and Hong Kong’s popular culture history, of course, by no means only starts in the nineteenth century. But what I shall highlight here is the first and foremost base of the prosperity of Hong Kong popular culture—the global scale of distribution networks and cultural influence. In the late nineteenth century and almost throughout the twentieth century, residing across west and east coasts in North America and all the way down to major cities in South America were a large population of migrant laborers who predominantly came from South China and spoke Cantonese-phonetic languages along with some others. This group of early emigrants who were also early founders of Chinatowns, to a large extent, brought overseas South China cultural circle into being. Similar to how African-American slaves brought along their music tastes to the North American lands and created the distinguished soul and blues genres, thousands of emigrants from Guangdong introduced Cantonese opera and Cantonese tunes to the vast foreign lands. From the above, and by what will also be elaborated chapter by chapter, we can grasp the significance of Hong Kong at two levels: Hong Kong plays an important part in giving birth to a distinctive genre of Sinophone culture—Hong Kong popular culture—and the cultural circle around the globe—a Sinophonic terrain (Huayu Diqu 華語地區). The formation of a migration hub in Hong Kong incubates the premise for the development of Hong Kong’s popular culture network, its phenomenal border-crossing influence and the later cultural transformation under the umbrella of transcultural encounter. In the contemporary age, mainly across the decades when the world saw the skyrocketing East Asian economy led by the Asian Four Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan), Hong Kong plays an important part and is the pioneer in the East Asian region across various social sectors, including development of popular culture. In Fung’s (2013) Asian Popular Culture, he describes the Asian pop cultural scene as continuity/discontinuity, which signifies the continuity of operation modes and structure that has led to the dissemination of Western culture to the East; and the discontinuity in terms of contents and cultural implication which in turn gives rise to “Asian-ness”, “pan-Asian identity”, “inter-Asia reference” and so on. Hong Kong as one of the most developed regions in the Asian world, exemplifies this continuity/discontinuity. In a historical perspective, Hong Kong, despite the ebbs and flows,



has been leading the pop culture continuity in Asia with its film production, entertainment conglomerates and television cultural impact. And what’s more, due to its colonial history and the geo-political status that juxtaposes Hong Kong as the Hollywood in the East, Hong Kong manifests alluring discontinuity with tremendous vibrancy by fusing north and south, west and east, Japanese and Chinese, ancient and fashion in a multi-dimensional dynamism. By employing the following conceptual frameworks, I intend to reiterate and re-position Hong Kong popular culture by extending this subject matter to cohesion with world history and regional political-socio vicissitudes. Sinophone Anchors Hong Kong Popular Culture “Chinese” and Sinophone Before going further to discuss Hong Kong popular culture and Sinophone studies, clarification of certain word usages matter. The scholarship of Sinophone studies first arose among the academics specialized in literature and film studies. Sinophone studies is conceived as the study of Sinitic-language cultures at the “conjuncture of China’s internal colonialism and Sinophone communities everywhere immigrants from China have settled… disrupts the chain of equivalence establishes, since the rise of nation-states, among language, culture, ethnicity, and nationality and explores the protean, kaleidoscopic, creative … local Sinophone texts, cultures, and practices produced in and from these margins” (Shih 2011, pp.  710–711). By adopting the term Sinophone, Wang (2017) makes contrast to “overseas Chinese”, which connotes a geographically peripheral position in relation to those originating from the Chinese mainland. Thus, the Sinophone refers to a “heterogeneous body of articulations related to, but not necessarily subject to, the dominant discourse of China” (p. 24). In light of this, the hackneyed claims of “overseas Chinese” (e.g. on mass media variety programs) to describe the origins of early migration flows carry encompassing yet slippery implications. One of the leading scholars in Sinophone studies, Shih Shu-mei (2010a, p. 474) succinctly pointed out that “the scandal of the Sinophone is related to how it fractures the coherence of the constructs called ‘China’, the ‘Chinese’, or ‘Chineseness’”. These China-related assertions, under the contemporary context, represent the official Mandarin/Putonghua-­



centered and politically loaded lens that has ruthlessly suppressed the heterogeneity of local culture and identity (e.g. in Hong Kong). “China” itself presents the one and only umbrella term that extends across regimes, territorial, temporal racial, ethnic and cultural realms whose reference and definitions varied from time to time. For instance, a lot of  “overseas Chinese” today (e.g. overseas Chinese students) has little in common with those who built the hundreds of Chinatowns around the world, linguistically, culturally and contextually. In the early twentieth century, cheap laborers who traveled to North America were actually people of the Qing Dynasty, while “overseas  Chinese”  today could be from Republic of China. Hence, the “China”/“Chinese” claim is lost in translation. Wang (2017, p. 10), in his seminal work on the literary history of modern China, suggests four layers to understand “China”: a historical process, a cultural lineage, a political entity and an imagined community. In line with this, I call on a critical and careful reading of this subject throughout this book, especially in terms of the political agenda implanted in cultural products, and I welcome critique in this regard. In addition, the often-used sloppy claim of “overseas Chinese” overshadows different local cultural indications embodied by thousands of emigrants who actually spoke different Sinitic languages, were accustomed to their own cultural circles and have cultivated their own sets of rituals according to the local environs. Plantation fields in Southeast Asia mostly received Amoy populations, and Cantonese speakers left for North and South America for gold mining, railroad construction and planation fields. A quick glance at their daily habits or engaging in casual conversation with them is enough to demonstrate the remarkable chasm between these groups of people and those living in Beijing, Shanghai and Hunan on today’s mainland China. Although a meticulous re-assessment and debunking of “Chineseness” in migration studies is an urgent need, it is a topic beyond the scope of this book.  For the sake of succinct discussion and reducing confusion, I will, on the one hand, on a case by case basis, continue using “China”/ “Chinese” as a merely convenient yet less accurate title to describe the largely Sinitic-language users and cultural products/phenomena. To compensate, more definite terms such as “Sinophone population” (huayu renkou 華語人口), “Cantonese speaking migration” and “Han-ethnic residents” (漢人, the largest ethnic group among Sinophone population) will be employed to give a more crystal clear reference. I deliberately employ the term “Sinophone population” in a heavier weight to succinctly indicate the “Hua Yi” (華裔)—the Han-ethnic circle sharing the Sinitic linguistic sys-



tem while residing in different places. On the other hand, I urge readers to consciously bear in mind that “China” here carries more a geographical implication than a defining nation-state and ethnic-cultural identity.  ong Kong and Sinophone H Over a century’s migration history of Chinese ethnicities (here, the population of Han ethnicity) has crystalized scattered Han-Chinese societies, which, in fact, reveal the hybrid nature of the use of language and cultural practices originating from a migrant population’s hometown and cultural circle. Hong Kong, a Han-ethnic community under British colonial rule and at the fringe of the larger Chinese empire, unveils an elaborate Sinophonic case in generation, evolution and exportation. Hong Kong is far away from the heart of the nation’s official culture (also called Guo Cui 國粹 —essence of the nation), regardless of the ethnicity of rulers and dynasties. Chinese literature scholar Chen Pingyuan (Chen et al. 2015, pp. 1–3), in the preface of his edited volume, addressed that while the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 was framed into national glory by the mainland Chinese government, for centuries, the people, culture and history of Hong Kong have been neglected by mainlanders— Hong Kong has been seen as a cultural desert. Instead, the most recent face of Hong Kong as a paradise of shopping and an international financial center has been acclaimed. However, it is also because of this “deserted” nature and later the colonial government’s laissez-faire governance that a particular type of culture—a Sinophone Hong Kong/South China cultural circle—was born, and since the post-war period, this cultural circle  has prevailed across global Sinophone markets. As wars and political turbulence abruptly quenched the thriving cultural business in Shanghai and severely destroyed external communication of the mainland Chinese region, Hong Kong, then a southern cultural center parallel to the Shanghai counterpart, played the role of cultural ambassador and broker of what were later defined as Sinophone cultural products. Except for the three-year-and-­ eight-month Japanese occupation era, Hong Kong’s popular cultural industry largely remained a normal operation. Cultural products of Hong Kong, such as films (the major cultural genre in the pre-war era), were produced in Cantonese, Mandarin, Teochew and Amoy—Sinitic languages—and were exported to different regions where scattered and of various sizes of Sinitic communities were housed across the globe. They



spoke different Sinitic languages and, similar to Hong Kong, usually embedded in a cultural circle which had always been far removed from the Chinese official cultural center. The linguistic dissonance registers the heterogeneity of Sinitic languages as well as their speakers living in different locales, largely, the Southeast Asian region in the early period and later in North America, South America, Oceania and even Africa. What it fumbles, engenders and validates, ultimately, is the heteroglossia of what scholars call the Sinophone: “a network of places of cultural production outside China and on the margins of China and Chineseness, where a historical process of heterogenizing and localizing of continental Chinese culture has been taking place for several centuries” (Shih 2007, p. 4). The tremendously huge migrant population living in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of the world speak Teochew, Hokkien, Cantonese, Shanghai-ese and a lot more languages, with accents varying according to different origins—the multi-tongued polyphonic Sinitic-language system. Sinophone studies therefore renew perspectives and conceptual tools that behoove re-thinking the long-existing wide dispersion of migrant population and transculturation of the Sinophone sphere. People are familiar with the maritime colonial expansion of European countries which led to their cultural dominance in different parts of the world. However, what has been largely neglected is the continental expansion of the Sinophone population and culture (Shih 2011, 2013; Yue and Khoo 2012; Chen 2015), namely, the Ming and Qing dynasties with a process of Hanification (Han-ethnic centric) in other regions, such as in Taiwan. Settlers, who were mainly merchants eager for economic profits, moved to Southeast Asian regions for business expansion. A larger section of the migrant population was coolies, or cheap laborers. They were transported from Hong Kong to remote countries which were in great need of labor forces for domestic agricultural and industrial advancement. A large number of the emigrants were tempted by the newly discovered gold mine in the west coast of North America. According to Sinn (2012, p. 1), the discovery of gold near San Francisco in 1848 was the embarking of the “pacific century” and significantly changed the global mapping of trading zones and, at the same time, transformed the ecology of Hong Kong. Cheap laborers originated from South China, departing from Hong Kong, were transported to overseas regions such as



the Malaya Peninsula, North America, South America and even Oceania. The gigantic flow of migration brought significant changes to the global supply-demand trends (e.g. emigrants were eager for goods from their hometowns). “One development, probably unforeseen, was the role Hong Kong played in the regional trade—both coastal and riverine— between north and south China… In the 1850s, this south–north trade (nanbei trade, known locally as Nam Pak trade), increasingly pivoted on Hong Kong, was to grow immensely, and the east–west California trade was to act as an important catalyst for this growth” (p. 2). This phenomenal migration history and the South China cultural habits people carried for generations become important pieces in the mapping of the world history by any means. In turn, the large scale and time span of Cantonese migration gives birth to a vast Sinitic-language-based community which has become the foundation of a particular type of kinship-­ traditional culture-based network. This network, to a large extent, is rhizomatic from Hong Kong, the colonial harbor city at the edge of South China. This network is also the one on which Sinophone is foregrounded. Sinophone communities are dotted across different countries, and people’s wide range of languages and cultures are nurtured and evolved in different locations based on the place and in intensive dialogue with the local culture. This long-term acculturation and transformation process has significantly distinguished a large variety of Sinophone cultures with those remaining in today’s mainland China (the People’s Republic of China—PRC). What’s more, Chinese Singaporeans and Chinese Malaysians would not say they are “Chinese” (zhongguoren 中國人) but use the term “huaren” (華人), in which the “hua” signifies the Sinophone instead of nationality. Even some people living in Hong Kong and Taiwan do the same, recognizing a “cultural China” rather than the nationalityborn “political China” (Ma and Fung 2007), given that the situation has been abruptly changing in recent years due to shifting political-social vicissitudes. The heterogeneity of Sinitic languages, which dethrones the standardization of Beijing-based Mandarin as an official Chinese language, confounds and enriches Sinophone study. Argued by Shih (2013, p.  10), monolingualism exerted by Beijing-centered Mandarin is “deterministic, atavistic, and philosophically weak, foreclosing present and future possibilities”. Instead, a multi-tongued Sinophonic scope thus provides a plas-



ticity that opens up a vibrant field. Apart from this, a central tension emerges as visual work opens up a larger window to global audiences of what is known as “Sino” (hua). AiHwa Ong (1999) pointed out that, apart from language and nationality, more importantly, what bonds the Sinophone community is the kinship rituals and the cultural values that are passed down through generations and represented in mass media products. Cultural practices, including worshipping ancestors, eulogizing traditional festivals and various procedures followed before important events such as weddings and funerals are all visually performed, becoming a process of visualizing a set of cultural values. Most of these values, if not all, comply with traditional religions (Buddhist, Taoist) and social structures rooted in patriarchy, but are under transformation, localization and hybridization (e.g. religious ceremonies originating from South China and migrated to Malaysia constitute of local foods being used as tributes on the altar; ancestor worshiping is mingled with Catholic religious practices in South America, etc.). In a nutshell, “Sinophone culture is a transnational phenomenon as one can find it everywhere in the world, but in specific expression and practice… therefore transnational, in constitution and formation, but local in practice and articulation” (Shih 2013). It is noteworthy that leading scholars in Sinophone studies, Wang Der-­ wei and Shih Shu-mei bifurcate in terms of whether or not “China” should be included in the paradigm. I attribute this fundamental chasm in the mind-set on mainland central-plain culture obsession. While Shih (2010b) uplifts the “against-diaspora” by stressing on the centrality and subjectivity of the migrant population, Wang (2017) suggests “Sinophone studies must also account for the generative power of ‘linguistic nativity’ within the national territory of China” (p. 25, italic as original). Embracing the standardized while also diverse and lively demonstration of Han-Chinese language, Wang advocates a new literary history. In Wang’s articulation on loyalism (yi-min 遺民, literally means abandoned people by the past dynasty/state), he refers to people’s loyalty to a bygone state and cultural reign. By taking cases of Taiwan literati (2013), Wang further argues that the generation of Taiwan-nativist-centered literati project a sense of postloyalism, as “they still had to engage in dialogue with the established loyalist discourse of their new locale” (p.  100). After all, “all post-loyalist writings share but one thing in common, that is the politics of time and the politics of memory” (p. 112). Bearing this statement in mind while



having reservations on the loyalism concept, I embrace a flexible lens to examine Hong Kong’s popular culture. On the one hand, we could seldom leave aside the fact that throughout realms of film, television and popular music, Hong Kong had established sound connections with those from the mainland (e.g. Shanghai, Canton), and these links are driven by forces, if not necessarily a loyalist melancholy, of economic profit or more affluent cultural resources. Geographically and culturally, the conduit between Hong Kong and the mainland (whether it belongs to Republic of China or the People’s Republic of China) has never been shut down through changes in times or even during wartime. On the other hand, what makes Hong Kong a crucial locale of Sinophone is the endogenous and exogenous culture landscape that was crafted and evolved amid the political-socio undercurrents at local, regional and global scales. Generally speaking, to put it simply, while numerous cases exhibited to audiences an “authentic” China (e.g. Shaw Brother films, swordsman dramas), it is by and large a Hong Kong-­ lish “China”—an imagined community plus transculturation (in Wang Der-wei’s term), and a lot more Hong Kong popular cultural products symbolize hybridization of imagined China, Canton, Hong Kong and foreign cultures that rove the cultural soil. In this sense, Sinophone study offers a broader horizon to re-examine social culture which should have been released from the national territorial boundary and situated in a more resilient network of social fluidity. What will be elaborated in the following section and throughout the chapters is mostly based on how Hong Kong has become a center of Sinophone cultural expansion. The historical role of Hong Kong being a cultural broker, paralleling with the role of being the middle-man of population transportation, started at the dawn of the twentieth century. Through images and sounds in popular cultural forms, Hong Kong popular culture disseminates a seemingly “Chinese” yet in fact Sinophone trends and impact to the world. On the one hand, Hong Kong films back in the 1960s, for instance, were well received across Southeast Asia due to the linguistic and cultural habitual proximity between Sinophone migrants and that demonstrated in Cantonese urban melodramas. On the other hand, blockbusters of ancient Central-East Chinese provincial opera were appealing to those living in Taiwan who originated from Central-East mainland China. These sketchy examples vividly exhibit the Sinophone-characterized Hong Kong popular culture that speaks to a diverse “Chineseness”—an evolved, transformed and localized cultural hint which could hardly be concluded by an



equally sketchy territorial-bounded, Han-culture-loaded and central-­ China-­referred “Chineseness”. Hong Kong Primes East Asian Culture Circle Asia and Asian studies, for a long period, have been treated less as a self-­ contained geographical concept than an ideological opposition to Eurocentrism, or what we usually call the “West”. From the early 2000s, with the established trans-border Japanese pop culture and the rising of entertainment wave from South Korea, paralleled is the emergence of academic journals and conferences, a trend that iterates and conceptualizes East Asian popular culture (Fung et al. 2015). In the face of the “global value” led by American popular culture in the rest of the world coupled with the economic skyrocketing, rapid pace of modernization (if not democratization) and the fading of war and colonial memory within the young generation, in East Asian metropolitan cities, such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul and Shanghai, dense flows of cultural products have formed a similar central-peripheral pattern. The developed cities play the role of the hub of resource accumulation, production and distribution. Fung (2013) identified the continuity and discontinuity of this phenomenon. While adapting the modes of operation of those entertainment conglomerates, which originated from the Western world, the rising trend of Asian popular cultural flows finds itself with uniqueness in terms of how to define beauty and trendy. An inter-Asian referencing paradigm is also suggested by Iwabuchi (2014) in the sense that Asian experiences are trans-locally relevant and shared, as well as having developed a nuanced comprehension through reciprocal learning. Iwabuchi’s (2014) inter-Asian referencing emphasizes the use of local terminologies and concepts in a trans-local context (e.g. wars against Japan in China and South Korea) to imprint the trans-locally relevant historical and social interaction situated in the larger region, thus enriching the original terms/concepts and implying potential generality beyond the region. Scholars have pointed out that, since the 1980s, East Asian popular cultural products, with forerunners such as Japan and Hong Kong, have criss-crossed the national borders and “constituted part of the culture of consumption that defines a very large part of everyday life of the population throughout the region… highly visible cultural traffic allows for the discursive construction of an ‘East Asian Popular Culture’” (Chua 2004,



p. 202). First, it is less a Confucianism/Neo-Confucianism-driven cultural glue that maneuvers the cultural exchange flow, but rather, from intensive empirical studies, the shared experience/sensibility/desire of modernization and urbanization that leads to the East Asian identity, consciousness and mentality within this cultural geography; thus echoes Raymond William’s notion of “structure of feeling” (Cho 2011; Iwabuchi 2014). This regional identity includes the displacement of the traditional rural struggle and the emphasis on the urban facilities, which, though embedding the Asian scenes and characters, transcend specific cultural uniqueness. Second, the construction of the pan-East Asian identity is an ideological project that is based on the commercial desire of drawing the larger market around the region, such as co-production, co-financing, mix of artistes and cross-regional airing of programs. The increasing inter-­ Asian co-production and promotion add to the trend of regionalization that forges an alternative model to the traditional American-led globalization. To delineate, in the past two decades, we have witnessed the blooming (and also waning) of Japanese popular culture disseminated to other East Asian regions. The spread of Japanese popular culture, including TV dramas, J-pop (pop songs), manga (comics) and anime (animation) has generated a Japan mania in neighboring regions (Iwabuchi 2002; Otmazgin 2008; Leung 2009a; Huang 2011) and has even led to a regional imagined community embraced by the audiences (Katsumata 2011). J-pop has been regarded as a forerunner and gateway to East Asian popular culture (Otmazgin 2014). Since the late 1990s, the Korean wave, under government support and the ambitious star-making system, has swarmed East Asia (Leung 2009b; Sung 2010). The blooming of Korean popular culture is the outcome of the Korean government’s strong intention to boost the national identity (Lie 2012) and to lead a “global Asia-­ ness” to the worldwide market (Lee 2015). However, for decades, discussions on the development and contribution of the East Asian popular culture have focused on Japan and South Korea, in terms of national policy and soft power establishment (Otmazgin 2008, 2014; Chua 2012; Heng 2014), industrial modal transformation and expansion (Otmazgin 2011), as well as audience community formation (Iwabuchi 2001; Katsumata 2011). From a historical perspective, what should not have been neglected and underestimated is the significant role played by Hong Kong—a prime member of East Asian popular culture forerunners and one among those laying foundation stones. It is pointed out that the overwhelmingly influential Japanese and South



Korean pop cultures over the East Asian region have been facilitated by “a historically well-established commercial structure through which Chinese-­ language pop culture has been produced, distributed, circulated and consumed for close to a century”. These networked channels are called Pop Culture China, without which the Japanese and Korean pop culture expansion would be merely bilateral rather than regional. The trans-­border pop culture in East Asia “may thus be said to be their integration into the established structure of Pop Culture China, and together they constitute a larger entity of East Asian Pop Culture as a loosely integrated regional cultural economy” (Chua 2012, pp. 3–5). In the following paragraphs, the significance of Hong Kong will be generally elaborated in a sense that, embracing its particular geo-political status throughout the twentieth century, Hong Kong has become not only a robust hub of cultural flows in the East Asian region but also in the aforementioned worldwide overseas Sinophone community. The juxtaposition of these two facets, dating back to the post-WWII period, the Cold War and the following Asian economic flight, crucially epitomized Hong Kong as the window to the West, the cultural broker and the hub of globally converged cultural flows. The cultural emblems of industrial and content-­ wise “flexibility”, “hybridity” and “fluidity” derived from the aforementioned temporal-spatial conditions mark the gems of Hong Kong as Hollywood in the East and the hub of Sinophone popular cultural industry. This established role of Hong Kong, though being challenged in the past ten years, has been facilitating the local/global pop culture communication in the age when the previous enclaved regimes started to open the doors. Furthermore, the cultural memory and social perception which is based on decades of collective consumption of Hong Kong pop culture in the Asian community and the global Sinophone community mirrors both the notion of “inter-Asia reference” and the (re)articulation of regional identity beyond those based on Japanese and Korean popular culture.

Significance of Hong Kong Popular Culture Studies The expansion of Hong Kong’s popular cultural products could be dated back to the nascent twentieth century. Sandwiched in fierce political competition between two Chinas—the Communist China (later People’s Republic of China—PRC) and the Nationalist China (the Republic of China later fled to Taiwan) after the WWII, Hong Kong, then a port city



under the British laissez-faire colonial rule, as coined by a famous Chinese film director Cai Chusheng (蔡楚生) as “the paradise of orphan island”, was vested the crucial role to sustain “Chinese cinema” (zhongguo dianying 中國電影) production while China was at war. In addition, the long-­ established entertainment kingdom of the conglomerates such as the Shaw Brothers, whose production center was based in Hong Kong and distribution channels spread all over Southeast Asia, has formulated the nascent “Asian cinema”, penetrating the markets in the Malay Peninsula and islands scattered around. Hong Kong once was the second largest film exporter in the world (Leung 1993). Films produced by the conglomerate Shaw Brothers once dominated the market of Taiwan, Singapore and other Asian countries where Chinese ethnicity makes the majority population. Originating from mainland China, the Shaw family developed and grew their business in Southeast Asia, eventually building an incomparable entertainment kingdom. Since that time, intra-regional resource exchange became active; besides the south-bound film workers (南來影人) from war-torn mainland China, Hong Kong directors even sailed to Japan to learn martial techniques and Japanese and Korean staffs developed their filming career in Hong Kong. The similar Zen spirit and desire for urban modernity had had criss-cross manifestation in Hong Kong and Japanese media products during that period (Teo 2007). Different from the America-driven globalization, Shaw’s family and other conglomerates in the similar business model and scale have forged a cross-regional business and cultural flow, which is based on the horizontal expansion of their entertainment chain and, more importantly, the Chinese ethnic kinship-based networks that spread a primitive “regionalization/globalization” (Fu 2008). In the 1980s, a significant booming of medium- and small-scale production houses was developed in Hong Kong, advancing the border-crossing of Hong Kong cultural products which lead to audible and visible chimera appealing to the Sinophone community for nearly a century. To further saturate the markets, transnational cooperation and partnerships were further expanded in terms of TV programs, despite the original model which was adopted from the British model in the colonial age. Soon Hong Kong local TV programs, especially variety shows (and their production patterns) as well as the TV dramas became the forerunners throughout the East Asian region. Mainland Chinese audience peeped into Hong Kong counterpart’s modern life on TV screen via all sorts of legal and illegal channels. In South China, the area adjacent to Hong



Kong, Guangdong province television station was “forced” to reform its production after notably illuminated by Hong Kong’s business mode and facing the significant threat from Hong Kong programs. As a forerunner, Hong Kong television stations, like TVB has disciples from Guangdong province in China and Singapore. Television institutions from these places not only purchased and re-diffused Hong Kong programs but also learned technologies and management models from Hong Kong. The global expansion of TVB (Television Broadcasts Limited, the market leader in Hong Kong), similar to the film industry, has reached overseas Sinophone population by transmitting Hong Kong news and local values. Through the flourishing transnational television networks and the established cinema networks, Hong Kong pop songs and the stardom industry also manufactured to a considerable capacity. Cassettes, legal and pirated CDs/ VCDs and televised variety shows have created a wide-expanded ­trans-­border community where people chanted Cantopop (popular songs sung in Cantonese, the first language in Hong Kong) even though lots of mainland Chinese do not speak Cantonese. People in East Asia were fascinated by “heavenly kings and queens” who charmed in Hong Kong’s vibrant showbiz. The golden epoch of Cantopop is not only the result of contemporary hybridity (Chu and Leung 2013), which has been intertwined with the unique Hong Kong context of migration flux and globalized business/cultural flow dated back to the post-WWII era. In addition, this book goes beyond by gauging into the age when Cantopop was not yet a term of consensus to name popular music born in this territory. Hong Kong, after the fall of Shanghai in the Sino-Japan war, became the East Asian hub that housed international record labels. This soil later nurtured a primitive form of musical hybridity, while different from the hybrid works in the 1980s, which incorporated cultural elements of diverse sources: Cantonese folk tunes, Western instruments and Broadway musicals. By this end, the “meeting place” nature that has characterized the city epitomizes its popular culture industry, and vice versa. The continuous inbound and outbound flux of resources, staff and values has shaped Hong Kong’s indispensable role in East Asian cultural regionalization and globalization, in reality and theoretically, not only from the 1980s when Hong Kong became a regional trendsetter but much earlier. In terms of the inter-Asian referencing, from Hong Kong’s long-existing mobile flux of the popular cultural industry, cases of adaptation, mutation and transformation of cultural objects and values occurred in Hong Kong and beyond. Besides the exchange of resources



between Hong Kong and Japan in the 1950s which led to the linage of “Zen in martial” and urban desire/nostalgia (desire from the Japanese side and nostalgia from the Shanghai elites residing in Hong Kong) (Teo 2007), the imageries/imaginations of mainland China and Southeast Asia revealed from Hong Kong’s cultural products indicate another facet of referencing that is closely embroiled in the inter-Asian history—colonization—independence, population mobility coupled with the development of world trade and resource reallocation, war history, and political-geographical transformation in international relations. The diversified collective image of Sinophone migration once dominantly manifested from Hong Kong cinema has formed a crucial role in Sinophone studies. The development of iterating the East Asian popular culture (Cho 2011) and reinforcing the inter-Asian referencing could have been nourished and consolidated if we could re-examine Hong Kong’s popular culture history by rewinding the clock and broadening the scope from regional to global. As Singaporean cultural scholar Chua Beng Huat (2004) stated that the making of the regional identity requires audience to transcend their grounded nationality and forge the identification with the foreign characters/scenes which, in turn, potentially reabsorbed into the broader transnational regional identity. In this book, I will take a bold attempt to articulate Hong Kong’s role in the construct of the Sinophone and East Asian popular culture scholarships: its pan-Asia and global expansion in the popular culture industry, the effervescent of crafting a polyglot Sinophone anchor and the media affects generated through Asian urbanite representation, altogether epitomized Hong Kong as a culture incubator and broker of Sinophone culture which historicizes and enriches the East Asian popular culture and the world cultural history.

Overview of the Book As the first book documenting and historicizing Hong Kong popular culture, three conspicuously vital forms, namely, film, television and popular music, to take a contour of its development situated in the global, regional and local history, and thus gauge the role played by popular culture in everyday life, social change and geo-political mapping, this book will offer historical accounts on the development of Hong Kong popular culture and, more excitingly, studies of the worlding of Hong Kong popular culture by surveying a wide range of literatures, examining statistical data,



engaging classified archives as well as interviews with popular culture practitioners. This book unveils the comprehensiveness and dynamic interactions between social actors, technological development, media contents and the whole socio-cultural context. From this book, readers board on the jet of time travel to map out how Hong Kong’s major popular cultural formats were unfolded in the territory where its socio-cultural characteristics and geo-political dynamics interlace the vista of world history. Among the popular culture products which will be discussed in this book, Hong Kong film enjoys the longest history, in technological terms. The inchoation of this technology as well as the industry dates back to the inception of the twentieth century. Therefore, to open the door leading to the kaleidoscope world of Hong Kong popular culture, chapters on Hong Kong films take the lead. In the dawn of the twentieth century, as one of the earliest cities in the world that receives filming and screening technologies (Hong Kong was one of the stop-overs in Thomas Edison and Lumière brothers’ cruise), Hong Kong soon witnessed its first local established film company. Over more than 100 years, Hong Kong film industry, in ebbs and flows, makes the once Hollywood in the East the hub of producing Sinophone films and now one of the Asian film production bases that fiercely competes with mainland China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. In the nexus of global market demand and drastic social transformation, Hong Kong film becomes the signature of the territory, and the historical development of the industry itself makes a Hong Kong story. Compared to film, television is a relatively much younger medium. But in the chapters that entail, we will take a journey back to the pre-life, also the foundation of Hong Kong’s television culture—public broadcasting. What will be highlighted, first of all, is the hybrid culture that is born by the broadcasting industry, a combination and compromise of the colonial government’s administrative need and the demand from the grassroots of society, which gathered an ever-growing diversity of population. Second, the urban culture derived from broadcasting, especially broadcasting soap operas that saturate people’s leisure life with captivating fables, laid founding stone of the later development of Hong Kong television culture. More importantly, Hong Kong’s first television station was founded on a well-­ established broadcasting corporate—the Rediffusion. The invention and prevalence of television in Hong Kong soon facilitated television culture becoming indispensable part of quotidian social life in the post-war Hong Kong. The impact of Hong Kong television is far more than being local



trendsetter, but with signals reaching Southeast Asia and North America where Sinophone-speaking emigrants reside. Equally enthralling to Hong Kong film is that Hong Kong television dramas visualized a world full of imaginaries and romance to Sinophone community (e.g. adaptation of works by literature maestro Louis Cha). But what epitomizes the significance of Hong Kong television culture’s border-crossing affective power is the modern-urban vista unveiled through a series of professional-­ centered programs—a beacon of modern East Asia culture. Against this backdrop, the popularity of Hong Kong television culture could never be free from the impact brought by theme songs—a transformative jump from conventional folk tunes to hybridity of Cantonese tradition and Western musical elements. The fame and recognition received by television drama theme songs makes this genre a vital part of Hong Kong’s another mainstream popular cultural format—Cantopop. Following chapters on Hong Kong television, the time-traveling tour will be extended to the section of popular music—the past and present life of Cantonese popular song (Cantopop). By any means, music, or literally singing, is the oldest medium compared to film and television. Songs sung in Cantonese in people’s daily life ranged from Cantonese folk tunes, children’s songs to lullabies. Instead of gauging into 1000 years of human history of song singing, this book reckons that the inchoation of Cantopop bloomed in the early twentieth century when songs sung in Cantonese were commercialized under Hong Kong’s record label business advancement. Housing a number of international record labels and later unremitting flows of refugees, Hong Kong played an increasingly influential role as the meeting place for talents from all around the world, and this thriving industry incubated equally hybridized musical works in decades to come. If the first attempt taken by Cantonese opera talents, who invented synergy of traditional Cantonese opera and Western instruments, was a pioneer in this long journey, the later progression in television drama theme songs, musical works in films and transition from Euro-American rock ‘n’ roll to Cantopop symbolizes the evolution and blossom of Cantopop’s hybridization character. In addition to being a fusion of Euro-­ American and Cantonese musical elements, Hong Kong Cantopop for a long time witnesses enormous success brought by Japanese song adaptation—a cross-reference of two leading popular icons in East Asia. For over half century, Hong Kong played a leading role in East Asia and among the Sinophone community in the popular music industry: release of music products, showbiz and multi-medium star-making business. Study of the



tremendous popularity of Cantopop could never turn a blind eye to the historical foundation of the market, the medium and the historical contingencies that Hong Kong was situated in as a former British colony. What will be delineated in chapters is a historical and sociological development of Cantonese popular music in Hong Kong and beyond—footprints of local and global musicians, advancement of media technologies mingled into the thriving of the industry. In Hong Kong and other places, evidently different popular cultural formats and their historical trajectories to a large extent overlap with and mutually illuminate each other. Despite that Hong Kong film, television and Cantopop develop along their own timelines; these three dominant popular cultural forms could never have produced equally profound impact if not for mutual support from other medium. What’s more, cultural products and the industrial development could never be discussed in a societal vacuum. The case of Hong Kong has made the logic more vivid that, despite of the disadvantageously small local market size and the refugee-­mentality in the post-war context, the colonial governance, the adjacency to mainland China and the large historical geo-politics in various temporal frameworks have created immeasurable conditions to make the Hong Kong miracle possible. The border-crossing nature, the huge success at certain period of time as well as the declination of Hong Kong popular culture are inevitably resulted from the larger political, economic and societal transformation throughout the century. Therefore, social and historical facets of different cultural forms and the interaction between them are also one of the highlights of this book. In the last part of the book, a review of the overall development of Hong Kong’s public policy on popular culture development will be inspected. Regulator, facilitator or road block, public policies in this domain were barely included on the governmental agenda despite the global influence Hong Kong popular culture has achieved. Admittedly, as an important stakeholder in every social sector, the Hong Kong government did play a role in the cultural industry, in terms of administrative regulation if not proactive encouragement. It is until the recent decades that systematic measures on promoting popular culture are put into effect as a result of non-ceasing advocacy from popular cultural professional groups. The founding of a culture-specific department—CreateHK was not achieved until 2009. Ironically, despite the fact that the government openly endorses popular culture as the city’s indispensable immaterial asset, the setting up of CreateHK is under the supervision of the Commerce



and Economic Development Bureau, a standpoint that is in line with the colonial government. For better or not, the establishment of cultural-­ related departments in regard to promoting the film industry or garner the creative industry is at the juncture of “the decline/death of Hong Kong popular culture” as howled by the mass. How do we take a multi-­ faceted comprehension on such statement? How do those working in the industry envision the realm? Interviews with cultural practitioners are taken to seek insights, if not solution. Mapping out Hong Kong culture could be a painstaking carpet-search process, as many people expect a book carrying a generic theme will achieve. This book, instead, sheds lights on the three representative fields, namely Hong Kong film, television drama and popular song that have constituted the extraordinarily shiny part of the city’s signature. First, they are strongly interrelated in terms of exchange of talents and cultural ­symbols which will be demonstrated chapter by chapter. Second, the interchange of talents across these three industries and the mutual reliance among these cultural forms contribute to the synergy effect of Hong Kong popular culture. Films and television dramas expand the popularity if a powerful theme song was accompanied. The television industry has nurtured a large number of talents who later became world-class superstars. Hong Kong popular song singers very often seek career breakthrough in the film industry. Leung (2015) pinpoints that multi-media stardom is a Hong Kong specialty that is closely associated with the historical and cultural legacy in the territory. On the contrary, while Hollywood is the world’s primary star-making factory, multi-media star-making is far less vibrant there as in Hong Kong. Therefore, a concentrated investigation into these three cultural sectors unrolls a broader picture of Hong Kong’s popular cultural industry. In addition, compared to other popular media such as comics and novels, images and sounds are understood and enjoyed across a wider spectrum of mass circulation. For example, as early as the 1930s, Hong Kong films featuring Cantonese opera singers were widely circulated among overseas Sinophone migration, becoming the mass culture to the mass population across different social classes as even illiterate people could understand the messages delivered through images and sounds. In the 1970s, it was through television transmission that a renowned martial art novelist—Louis Cha’s (查良鏞) works are turned into household cultural symbols. While reading novels blocks people from taking extra activity, heroic stories transmitted from television ease people from spending time on only one pastime interest but allowing audience



dinning, doing house-chores while watching/listening to television shows. Last but not least, this book focuses on popular culture instead of mass culture. Popular culture is foremost coined by its trend-setting nature and the derivative stardom—fandom dynamo that aims to profit making, while mass culture implies a more generic understanding of cultural life among mass population. By focusing on popular culture, this book captivates Hong Kong’s prominent cultural influencers which advance the social pulse across different ages. This book, with an overview of Hong Kong popular culture while casting spotlight on the worlding of this film, television and Cantopop, is intended for a wide range of readers who are enchanted by popular culture and Hong Kong political, cultural and social dynamics. Each chapter will present a chapter overview that unfolds the discussion. At the end of each chapter, following the concluding remarks, is a section on educational ­elements: further reading materials, explanation of key words, introduction of key scholars and questions/puzzles for further contemplation will be presented so that readers, especially students at different levels grasp the gem of the crown after a history excursion. By practical means, these are keys for lectures and course works of the related subjects.

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Making Hong Kong Film

Chapter Overview In the first section, we will take a cruise in the nascence of Hong Kong film industry and take a glimpse into the early Hong Kong society. In the early 1900s, around 15 years later than the invention of filming technologies, Hong Kong had the first contact with this innovation, brought by Westerners who sailed across the ocean. Though controversies remain that, if a film made by a Hong Kong director but made in Shanghai could be regarded as a “Hong Kong film”, it is by no means to deny that, from the inchoation, Hong Kong film has had close connection with China and with the world. Tin Hau in Hong Kong Island makes the cradle of Hong Kong film industry. Along Ngan Mok Street, we follow the footsteps of the pioneers in Hong Kong’s film industry. As the Sino-Japanese war and the soon followed civil war between the communist party and the nationalist party broke out and tore the vast land of China into pieces, Hong Kong film industry had stronger connection with China when a flux of Chinese filmmakers fled to the south. Yet such political changes largely transformed the Hong Kong society as well as the film industry, what drove the society and the culture to schism and market segregation was a larger geo-political quandary—Cold War. This chapter also addresses how the film industry has mirrored the equally captivating social changes in Hong Kong, such as the 1960s and 1970s, when Hong Kong gradually transformed from a refugee shelter to © The Author(s) 2020 K. J. Wang, Hong Kong Popular Culture, Hong Kong Studies Reader Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8817-0_2




a permanent home for millions of baby boomers; how the 1980s witnessed the skyrocketing economy and the negotiation about the future of Hong Kong and how the handover of Hong Kong and the financial crisis epitomized crucial moments to the city’s history. Along with social development, Hong Kong’s film genres and styles never cease to display innovations that supplied the expanding market. It is in this prosperous 1980s that Hong Kong films were epitomized as a unique genre “Gang Chan Pian” (Hong Kong-made films, 港產片). Ironically, Hong Kong film industry faced a dramatic decline in the mid-1990s. With the decrease of production, a gloomy future is unveiled. Clogged in the regional financial crisis, the cease of overseas markets and the decline of productions, opportunities approached with the opening of a massive mainland market as Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was implemented in 2004. Box office skyrocketed, while film quality in serious suspicion. Hong Kong film talents are striving in different fields to pave paths for Hong Kong films. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times”. Hong Kong’s new-­ generation filmmakers keep walking, to the north and to the rest of the world.

Introduction 17 May 2009—A cocktail reception celebrating a century of Hong Kong film and filmmakers was held last night at Carlton Beach, Cannes, France. The reception, ‘China Night: Celebration of 100  Years of Hong Kong Cinema,’ took place during the annual Festival de Cannes and was attended by industry players from Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland and around the world. Hong Kong Development Council1

Contrary to festive centennial eulogy, Hong Kong film critic and researcher Law Kar expressed his strong reservation on this. Controversial facts still linger: Is the acclaimed first Hong Kong film Stealing a Roast Duck/Tou Shao Ya 偷燒鴨 was filmed in 1909? Is Stealing a Roast Duck or another well-known short film Chuang Tsi Tests His Wife/Zhuangzi Shi Qi 莊子試妻 marked the first Hong Kong film? (Law 2015) Other film scholars, such as Wong Ain-Ling, according to her detailed archival 1  See press release by Hong Kong Trade Development Council on May 17, 2009 http:// www.hktdc.com/fair/hkfilmart-en/s/4155-For_Press/Hong-Kong-InternationalFilm%2D%2D-TV-Market%2D%2DFILMART-/Press-Releases-17May2009.html.



study, also affirm that both the filming and release dates of Stealing a Roast Duck are unknown (Wong and Lam 2011). Nevertheless, for over a century, Hong Kong film epitomizes in Chinese history as one of the first few cities to absorb filming and screening technologies—named “ying hua” (photo picture 影畫) or “hua xi” (picture photo-play 畫戲). This pioneering role of Hong Kong is later understood leading the city become the “Hollywood in the East”. Furthermore, a vista to be unfolded is that Hong Kong film industry, far beyond manufacturing a dream factory for film professionals and cine fans, has visualized and materialized a keychain to unlock the societal grievances and joyfulness to Hong Kong people, an imagined homeland to overseas Chinese and an imagined cradle of Chinese culture to global cinemagoers. Tin Hau, one of the busiest commercial districts in Hong Kong and a famous tourist spot, incubates the first generation of Hong Kong film, though not a single piece of relics remains there to memorize such a significant past. Near Tin Hau Temple, the Ngan Mok Street is the only trace. Literally translated as “silver screen street”, Ngan Mok Street marks Hong Kong’s first film company—China Sun (民新), established by Lai brothers (黎氏兄弟), who, interestingly, spent their school age in Hong Kong’s best-known English-language college—Queen’s College, which is also located at the center of Tin Hau (Image 2.1). In the nineteenth century, the age of the inception of motion pictures, namely, the Cinematograph (a brand name of the Société Lumière, European-based founding father of motion pictures) and the Kinetoscope (patented by America-base Thomas Edison), filmmaking was merely a business driven by this innovative technology. Only venture funders and young elites who are fond of new ideas are able to afford this business. Like any nowadays brand names, cinema/cinematograph, as an innovation, was merely a trade name. As the spokesperson from the Société Lumière affirmed, the rights to the name related to “cine” belonged to their company (Law and Bren 2004, p. 5).2 The exhibition of the Edison version of cinema technology in Hong Kong took place in 1913. Traces of this novel and exotic foreign display could be found on the Hong Kong long-lived prominent English newspaper, South China Morning Post (Image 2.2).

2  See the letter to Frank Bren dated September 11, 1998, from Fabrice Calzettoni who is responsible for the company.



Image 2.1  Ngan Mok Street. Literally meaning silver screen street, Ngan Mok Street is located at Tin Hau to mark the establishment of Hong Kong’s first Chinese-run film company, China Sun. (Photo by the author)

Early Cine-Scene in Hong Kong The inception of Hong Kong film industry can never be disassociated from mainland China, especially the metropolitan at that time, Shanghai. Another key point is Guangzhou, the political and economic center of South China, where, in the post-World War II (WWII) era, was co-­ established with Hong Kong the prosperous world of the Cantonese film circle (Cantonese: the lingua franca of people living in the Pearl River Delta, including Guangdong province, Hong Kong and Macao). The ­following discussion unveils Hong Kong as a meeting place for border-­ crossing talents who built up early forms of “worlding”. Though a controversially proved fact, the film industry generally agrees upon that the most early films directed by Hong Kong director (who may even be the first Chinese director) (Law and Bren 2004, p. 37) are The Haunted Pot/Wapen Shenyuan 瓦盆申冤 (1909?) and Steal a Roasted



Image 2.2  Advertisement of Edison’s Kinetophone exhibition in Hong Kong. From South China Morning Post, April 29, 1913. Public Domain

Duck/Tou Shao Ya 偷燒鴨 (1909), directed by a Hong Kong man Leung Siu Po (梁少坡) in 1909. Though these two films were filmed in Hong Kong, they were produced by the Shanghai-registered company Asian Motion Picture Company (亞西亞影戲公司)—a company established by a Russian American, Benjamin Brodsky. Actually, years before these two early films, activities of film exhibition already took place in Hong Kong against the backdrop that then film technology competitors French Lumière brothers and American Thomas Edison launched their fierce competition for global markets. Since 1897, representatives of the Lumière brothers and Thomas Edison sailed off to exhibit films to global audience, and films were by all means the most innovative inventions at that time. Meanwhile, both parties took the global tour opportunity to shoot new footages of foreign scenic. These



Table 2.1  Early images of Hong Kong 1898


The government house at Hong Kong Hong Kong wharf scene Street scene in Hong Kong Shiek artillery, Hong Kong Hong Kong regiment no. 1&2 Tourists starting for Canton

Thomas Edison Thomas Edison Thomas Edison Thomas Edison Thomas Edison Thomas Edison

Information collected from: Changes in Hong Kong society through Cine (第12屆香港國際電影節:香港電影與社會變遷) (1988) Law K & Bren  F 2004, Hong Kong Cinema—A cross cultural view,  The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland and Oxford, UK. Hong Kong Film Archive 2017, Hong Kong Memories in Cinema (百年光影覓香江), Hong Kong

early moving images then turned out to be the very first documentary recordings in Hong Kong (HKIFFS 1988).3 Though staffs from the Institut Lumière denied that they sent “Professor Maurice Charvet” to exhibit films in Hong Kong, in April 1897, local newspapers China Mail, on April 24, 1897, announced the arrival of the ship Peru, which had sailed from San Francisco and the film exhibition show in Hong Kong City Hall (Law and Bren  2004, p.  6). These foreign film pioneers not only came to the oriental world to show their latest filmic innovation, but also to capture footages. These footages became the precious early moving images of Hong Kong (Table 2.1). Hong Kong public started to embrace film exhibition activities as different local newspapers since then advertised screening activities at different venues. Film was introduced to Hong Kong audiences who expressed high expectations and curiosity towards such new media (Yeh 2018, p. 35). These early film exhibition venues, where film screening was very often bundled with opera performance, were actually Cantonese opera play stages.4 What’s more, according to Yeh’s latest research based on newspaper sur3  Records from 1988, published by Hong Kong International Film Festival Society. 4  Since 1899, Hong Kong started to show Western films in outdoor space. In 1900, the first theater showing films in Hong Kong was Chungking Theater (重慶戲院). In the early period, Cantonese opera theaters were transformed to film-showing theaters. And filmshowing activities were operated by Westerners. In 1907, a Jewish merchant cooperated with Lo Kan (盧根) established Hong Kong’s first cinema—Bejou Scenic Theater (比照).



vey, at the beginning of the twentieth century, YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association—an important non-government organization aims at developing human’s body-mind healthiness) was a crucial venue for film screening, which was usually utilized as a supplementary activity to missionary talks. Besides taking an entertainment role by showing fiction stories, foreign life and natural scenes, film screening activities in that period were also for educational, public service and charity purposes, such as to advocate donation during natural disaster, to disseminate scientific and hygiene practice and to promote political views on historical incidents (e.g. war) (Yeh 2018, pp. 39–40). During those years—the inchoation period of film technology—large number of Western film exhibitors and filmmakers visited Hong Kong and other coastal cities in China, as merchants and profiteers, if not cultural imperialists, for the purpose of making money rather than doing artistic work. Therefore, early film in Hong Kong was primarily a visual activity for amusement and for information, far from forming an industry. Stories on film production or film performance were virtually non-existent until the establishment of Hong Kong’s first local film company—China Sun. Pioneers of the Film Industry Contrary to Western cinematograph merchants’ profit-making mentality, the pioneers of Hong Kong filmmaking are largely patriotic artists. They are Lai Man-wai (黎民偉) and Lai Buk-hoi (黎北海), two brothers who befriend with the Russian American Benjamin Brodsky in the beginning of the twentieth century. Brodsky was born in Russia in 1877 and later sailed to America (Bren 2011).5 He was an opportunist profiteer running several film-related ­businesses, such as film companies and nickelodeons (cheap theater with five cent admission fee). In the following years, en route to China, Brodsky met a young Chinese who was relative to important officials in the Chinese government. This promising young man secured for Brodsky a 25-year exclusive franchise on exhibiting, producing and distributing motion pic5  Actually, the journey to America was not smooth at all. During his teenage years, he left the callous blacksmith with whom he apprenticed with and boarded a ship to England with a stolen fur. After being caught by the captain and being sent to the authorities, Brodsky bribed the officer with the fur and succeeded in boarding again. However, a storm hit the ship off the South American coast. Brodsky was among the eight survivors and finally made his trip to England and later to America.



tures in China. However, it is still unknown that if Brodsky really accepted this offer and made Chinese films under this franchise. Brodsky allegedly formed Asia Films Company in Shanghai in 1909, where Brodsky backed several film productions in Hong Kong, such as the aforementioned Stealing a Roast Duck (1909). It is said that Stealing a Roast Duck was publicly screened in Los Angeles in 1917. After filming Stealing a Roast Duck, Leung Siu Po, accompanied by Lai Buk-hoi, paid a visit to Shanghai in 1910, hoping to learn from masters there. Disappointedly, they found no film industry as yet in Shanghai and had to return to Hong Kong and began to self-learn cinematography by reading English books. Shanghai and Hong Kong, two Chinese metropolises and trade harbors, altogether epitomize the nascence of Chinese film industry (for more about Shanghai-Hong Kong connection, see Chap. 3). The Lai brothers are seldom new comers to the artistic world. By early 1907, some patriotic college students in China who supported the republic revolution led by Sun Yat-sen, formed a theater troupe, staging experimental drama plays based on Western literature. This new type of drama, significantly different from traditional provincial operas, was called “civilized drama” (wen ming xi 文明戲), consisting of improvisation and script-­ based performance, enthralling a large number of young intelligentsia, including those living in Hong Kong. The Lai brothers—Lai Buk-hoi (he played the role of policeman in Stealing a Roast Duck) and Lai Man-wai— their cousin Lai Hoi-shan (黎海山) and their friend Lo Wing-cheung (羅 永祥) and also some others registered perhaps the first civilized drama troupe in Hong Kong, called “Ching Ping Lok” (Qing Ping Le 清平樂). The First Co-production? In 1912, Brodsky sold the Asian Motion Picture Company and moved southbound to Hong Kong to establish the Huamei Film Company (literally meaning Chinese-American film company, 華美影片公司) in 1913. It was also the time that Brodsky was introduced to Lai brothers through Lo Wing-cheung. Financed by Huamei, they cooperated on filming Chuang Tsi Tests His Wife/Zhuangzi Shiqi 莊子試妻 (1913). Brodsky provided the facilities and the Hong Kong group provided the script, performers, settings and costumes. The Hong Kong performers and resources were mainly based on the troupe called “Yan Ngoh Kian (literally means ‘others serve as my mirror’, ren wo jing 人我鏡)” established by Lai brothers. In the film, Lai Man-wai played the wife, in accordance with Chinese tradi-



tion that males can dress up as females on stage. The second of Lai’s two wives, Yan Shanshan (嚴珊珊), played the maid. Under the Confucian patriarchal context that women were forbidden on stage, Yan’s appearance was doubtless a revolutionary move and she became the first actress in China. Some scholars contested that Chuang Tsi Tests His Wife, similar to Stealing a Roast Duck, could not be regarded as a Hong Kong film due to Brodsky’s full investment (Zhou and Li 2004). However, Law and Bren (2004) argue that, by the time Chuang Tsi Tests His Wife was filmed, the production company Huamei Film Company was registered in Hong Kong rather than in Shanghai. Theoretically, Chuang Tsi Tests His Wife could be defined as the first co-production film in Hong Kong history. A hundred years later, when we witness a surge of Hong Kong co-­ production films in the context of Hong Kong—China Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)—we found an intriguing co-incidence in Hong Kong’s film history that co-production to a large extent has epitomized the city as a meeting place of human, money and wisdom. After filming Chuang Tsi Tests His Wife, in 1923, Lai brothers founded China Sun Film company (Minxin 民新), Hong Kong’s first movie studio, which was located at Ngan Mok Street in Tin Hau, in front of the Tin Hau Temple. Later, Moon Kwan (Kwan Man-ching 關文清), who had lived in the United States and had worked in Hollywood film industry, joined the China Sun and helped establish the company’s training school (the first in-house training school of film staffs). Unfortunately, they were rejected by the colonial government to build an open-air studio nearby due to Lai’s political ideology and his support to Sun Yat-sen. Therefore, productions by this Hong Kong’s first film studio have to be filmed in Guangzhou, China. In 1924, an indoor studio was set in Guangzhou with full lighting equipment, an office, a dormitory and a performer training center, where they shot Rouge/Yanzhi 胭脂 (1925)—Hong Kong’s first full-length feature film. Similar to Chuang Tsi Tests His Wife, Rouge was directed and enacted by a group of Yan Ngoh Kian troupe members: Lai Man-wai and his wife (this time, his first wife Lam Cho-cho (林楚楚)), Leung Siu Po and Lai Buk-hoi (he also directed this film). Rouge was premiered at the World Theater (新世界戲院) on February 23, 1925, and drew worldwide attention. At that time, World Theater in Hong Kong Island central district was a city icon. Established and financed by Lai’s family, which was then a well-­off merchant family, the World theater became the first theater in the territory regularly showing films of various origins. Films were imported from North



Image 2.3  Booklet of World Theater No.41, August 16, 1928. World Theater showed Western and Chinese films. (Courtesy to Special Collections, The University of Hong Kong Libraries)

America, Europe and Shanghai. With World Theater and China Sun studio, the first film production-distribution chain system was in its nascent form, though short lived due to China Sun’s financial difficulties (Image 2.3). Lai Brothers in Shanghai and Hong Kong Far from taking film production as a profit-making business, Hong Kong’s early film pioneers were more patriotic artisans than merchants. Since 1923, Lai Man-wai and Law Wing-cheung, two key leaders of China Sun, collaborated in shooting documentaries and travelogues in Hong Kong and mainland China, especially following the steps of Sun Yat-sen and his political advocacy campaigns northbound from Guangzhou, Nanjing to Beijing—a journey called the Northern Expedition (北伐). These footages covered the first national meeting of Chinese Kuomintang (KMT, aka the Nationalist) and the scene of Sun Yat-sen inspecting troops. Some precious image footages of the revolutionist and Sun’s daily life were collated into the documentary A Page of History/Xunye Qianqiu 勳業千秋 (1941)



by Lai’s descendants. Backing Sun Yat-sen’s republican philosophy and political aim, Lai Man-wai used his photograph and filming techniques to support the republican revolution, becoming the first filmmaker who raised the slogan “Save the Nation through Cinema”. Situated in China’s political turbulence and being Chinese nationalist activists themselves, Lai brothers’ film business could seldom be free from influence from China. On May 30, 1925, students and workers held large-­ scale demonstrations in Shanghai’s British concession but got shot by British soldiers. In solidarity, workers in Guangzhou and Hong Kong commenced a large-scale protest call the “General Strike” (省港大罷工). Workers who joined the strike included film workers. The general strike heavily hit Lai brothers’ film industry as film reels shot in Guangzhou were not able to be transported back to Hong Kong for further processing. And also due to conflicts between the two brothers, Lai Man-wai, with the consent from the board, took the company’s equipment and moved China Sun Company to Shanghai in October 1925. Lai Buk-hoi, instead, stayed in Guangzhou to manage the studio. With assistance from Sun Yat-sen’s revolution advocacy organization— Tung Menghui (同盟會)—and related business tycoons, soon Lai Man-­ wai put China Sun back to operation in full swing in Shanghai, with a group of Shanghai-acclaimed intelligentsia joining in the company (e.g. Hou Yao (侯曜) and Ouyang Yuqian (歐陽予倩)). In this period, masterpieces were made in Shanghai’s China Sun Motion Pictures, such as Way Down West/Xi Xiang Ji 西廂記 (1927) directed by Hou Yao in 1927. This film marked the first screen adaptation of Chinese literary classic. Later, a French jewelry businessman purchased the distribution rights for public screening in the UK and France (Ng 2005). However, again, similar to the previous issue in Hong Kong, mainly due to Lai Man-wai’s overinvestment, Shanghai China Sun encountered financial woes. To help the film company survive, Lai collaborated with Law Mingyau (羅明佑), the “king” of theater and distribution circuit called “North China Film Company”, to co-found the United Photoplay Service (Lianhua 聯華) in Shanghai in 1932. This was a win-win solution to both sides: as Law’s business chain rescued China Sun by offering stable distribution channels to its production, China Sun then became a chartered film provider to Law’s theaters (Chung 2011). This production-­ distribution system was labeled as “national film revival” and “resist to foreign film monopoly”. Lai Buk-hoi, who remained running the film business in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, sought prominent business partnership with Lee Hysan (利希慎), a Hong Kong business tycoon. They then co-founded the Hong



Kong Film Company (香港影片公司). The Hong Kong Film Company was located near Lee Garden Road in Tin Hau, which was purchased by Lee Hysan during the 1920s. Actor training schools were established, again turning Tin Hau the hub of filmmaking in Hong Kong. The First Golden Age of Film Industry The following discussion shows a thought-provoking picture that depicted an early form of border-crossing business and culture. While people eulogized the vibrant cultural life in pre-war Shanghai, what calls for special attention is that a considerable proportion of capitals and talents were in fact originated from Hong Kong. In addition, parallel to Shanghai yet receiving less acclamation, Hong Kong in the pre-war era already turned to a Cantonese cultural center. The aforementioned Lianhua Company, though based in Shanghai, was mainly invested in by the Hong Kong Eurasian business tycoon Sir Robert Ho Tung 何東爵士 and some other wealthy businessmen who enjoyed celebrated social status in different sectors. With such powerful endorsements, Lianhua was turned into an iconic company that led China’s film industry into the culmination in the pre-war era. The endeavors taken by Lai Man-wai, Law Ming-yau and a lot more talented film professionals, including a group of most sought-after directors, script writers and actors, made Shanghai the Mecca of China’s film industry. Emulating the Hollywood system, five independent studios were operated in different cities, including Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong (where Lai Buk-hoi was the head of the Hong Kong studio). With the existing wide-reaching theater network of the “North China Film Company”, Lianhua’s films were shown nationwide. In 1933, Lai Buk-hoi led Hong Kong into the sound-film era by directing Idio’s Wedding Night/ Shazai Dongfang 傻仔洞房 (1933). In the mid-1930s, China was gradually divided by ideological camps made with the left-leaning Communist (Chinese Communist Party, aka CCP) and the right-leaning Nationalist (aka KMT) and the whole country was dragged into the Sino-Japan War. This larger political-social context had an impact on Lianhua as well, leading to intensified left-right ideological conflicts within the company. The conflicts were understood causing Lianhua’s gloomy fate. In 1935, Law Ming-yau and Lai Manwai left Lianhua. That said, Lianhua was doubtlessly a cradle to a group of significant filmmakers, performers and play writers, such as Ruan Lingyu (阮玲玉), Cai Chusheng and Tian Han (田漢) and a lot more names



who deserve a place on the wall of fame in Chinese film history. Among them, Cai was originated from Guangdong province. He later fled to Hong Kong, making several applauded wartime film works. Actually, in the pre-war era, Lai was seldom the only family running filmmaking and film distribution business. Another prominent group was the Shaw family. Shaw Zuiweng (also called C. W. Shaw 邵醉翁) was the first person in his family to start an entertainment business. From running a comic theater to joining in film business, the Shaw family (mainly the Shaw brothers) gradually established one of Shanghai’s most profitable film companies—Tianyi film company (literally means Sky One, 天一). What will be elaborated in Chap. 3 is a remarkable case that it was in Shanghai—a non-Cantonese-speaking city—that the first Cantonese feature film White Gold Dragon/Bai Jin Long 白金龍 (1934) was produced by the Shaw family’s film company. This was regarded as the first Cantonese film produced in Asia, featuring one of the most popular Cantonese opera singer Sit Kok-sin (薛覺先). After gaining tremendous success by making the White Gold Dragon, Shaw brothers sensed the up-and-coming huge profit of making Cantonese films and decided to move their production house to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, Tianyi named its studio “Nanyang” (literally means South Ocean, 南洋). Based in this colonial territory, their Cantonese production was shown in domestic theaters and extensively exported to Southeast Asia where Cantonese features were well received. From Shanghai to Hong Kong to Southeast Asia, the birth and popularity of Cantonese film well narrate the “worlding” of Cantonese culture, which was brought into contour by the globally traveling Sinophonic population. Beyond the Indian Ocean and even across the Pacific Ocean, there was another film company produced Cantonese films as well. Grand View (Da Guan 大觀) film company was established by Chinese-American Joseph Chiu (趙樹燊)—a Cantonese-speaking immigrant originated from Guangdong province. Grand View produced their first Cantonese film in 1934, Romance of Songsters/Gelu Qing Chao 歌侶情潮 (1934). Similar to the White Gold Dragon, this film, though made in the United States, featured a famous Cantonese opera performer—Kwan Tak-hing (關德興). At first place, this film aimed at attracting overseas Cantonese-speaking Chinese and turned out a profitable success. After the hit of box office by this film, Grand View soon moved the studio to Hong Kong, bringing in the best-equipped standard. Despite that whether the White Golden Dragon or the Romance of Songsters represents the first Cantonese feature film is unsettled, the remarkable success gained by these two films grounded the base of



Cantonese film development in the many more years to come. These two films also epitomized the form and format for Cantonese film production in the long post-war period: vaudeville was performed by Cantonese opera performers who transformed operatic practice and singing in feature films, while film scripts were derived from folklores, literature and plays of various cultural backgrounds. According to Chung Po-yin (2011)’s research, in 1932–1936, there were more than 50 film companies in Hong Kong, making this tiny port city the hub of Cantonese film production and distribution. During this period, according to Paul Fonoroff (1997), there was probably no film actors triumphed Ng Cho-fan (吳楚帆) on the silver screen. Ng, commenced his career from Grand View, was a prominent film star, film producer and writer in Hong Kong film history and had been sought-after across the Sinophone film market throughout his stage life (RTHK 2005). He was well known for impersonating righteous characters who, in most cases, offered a helping hand to the suppressed poor. Ng reached his career zenith in the post-war era and was crowned “king of South China film”.6 Other noteworthy film stars and producers who had their debut or ­fledging opportunity in Grand View include: Lee Sun-fung (李晨風), Ng Wui (吳 回), and Lee Tit (李鐵). This large group of film talents not only led Hong Kong’s Cantonese film production thrive in the pre-war era under Grand View’s world-standard entertainment business operation but also became pillars of Hong Kong’s whole film industry in the post-war decades. Another noteworthy major Cantonese film company was Nan Yue (南 粵), which was established in 1935 by Zhu Qingxian (竺清賢). Nan Yue built up its own studio near the Lee Garden Road, Tin Hau. Zhu was a talented inventor especially in terms of improving filming facilities, such as “Qingxian recorder” (the first local-made recorder in China). Parallel to Tianyi (later renamed Nanyang) and Grand View, Nan Yue was regarded as the third biggest film company during the pre-war period. In 1935–1940, 25 Cantonese films, 2 Mandarin films, 2 Vietnamese films and 1 Amoy film were produced. Amoy film Script of Play/Xi Jing 戲經, is the first Amoy film produced in Hong Kong but shot in the Philippines (Yu 1997a, p. 109). From the cases above, we can see that, as early as the 1920s, Cantonese film distribution already reached overseas audience. In this process, Hong  South China films (華南電影) refer to Cantonese films which were mostly produced in Guangdong and Hong Kong, as counterparts to those produced in Shanghai and Beijing. Before the 1980s, films produced in Hong Kong were categorized into Mandarin films and Cantonese films. The latter one was derived from South China films. 6



Kong’s unique role to filmmakers and merchants started to unveil: the city became an ideal hub for producing films that were able to make huge profits from overseas markets. With the release of Romance of Songsters and White Gold Dragon, Cantonese film production welcomed its first golden age (circa 1935–1941) (See Tables 2.2 and 2.3). Table 2.2  Hong Kong Films before the anti-Japan war Year




1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941

25 65 96 90 124 84 76

0 0 0 3 5 5 6

1 0 2 0 3 0 2

Data calculated from Hong Kong Filmography (1914–2010), Hong Kong Film Archive

Table 2.3  Genres of Hong Kong films in the pre-war period Number of film releases in 1938 in Hong Kong National defense 22 Romantic 16 Folklore 15 Ethic melodrama 13 Comedy 10 Social educational 4 Other 7 87 Number of film releases in 1939 in Hong Kong Folklore 25 Romantic 17 Comedy 16 Ghost fantasy 12 National defense 10 Cantonese opera 9 Martial art 9 Ethic melodrama 5 Sing-song 4 other 11 125

Cantonese film Mandarin film

84 3

Cantonese film Mandarin film

120 5

Data is collected from Yu MW 1997a, History of Hong Kong Film (vol 2)—1930s 香港電視史話(第二卷) 三十年代, p. 167 and p. 191, Sub-culture Publisher, Hong Kong



Banning Cantonese Film and the Lurking War The increasing popularity of Cantonese film, on the one hand, significantly facilitated the widespread Cantonese culture and consolidation of bond of Cantonese cultural circle among immigrant population in Southeast Asia and North America (Chung 2011, p. 92). On the other hand, the dominance of Cantonese film in South China touched the nerve of Chinese republic government’s (the KMT Nanjing government at that time) national language unification policy. Cantonese, in the eyes of the KMT officials, the rising power of Cantonese culture had threatened the national unification. In 1936, the KMT government passed an edict that banned production of Cantonese film (with a three-year probation of enforcement) around the state. Hong Kong, then a British colony, adjacent to the mainland and had already become an important overseas trading hub, attracted numerous filmmakers and merchants to continue their film business. Since then and during the Sino-Japan wartime, anti-Japan national defense films along with other genres of film production were sustained and flourished on this small island, until Hong Kong was occupied by Japanese troops in 1941. The banning edict by the KMT government and the outbreak of anti-Japan war altogether triggered a southbound wave migration among film talents, first those living in Guangzhou such as Cantonese opera singers, and later even those in China’s film center Shanghai. During the anti-Japan wartime, Hong Kong became a shelter city to a large group of film talents and cultural workers. On the one hand, Hong Kong, with its established film industry, remained a stable environment for film production for those fled from war-torn China. On the other hand, embracing the grave Chinese nationalistic sentiment, the southbound cultural workers and filmmakers (南來影人) treated Hong Kong as only a stepping stone to disseminate the national defense message through films to the vast overseas immigrant population. The production of this time-­specific genre—national defense films, which in fact involved film professionals from both mainland China and Hong Kong—will be discussed in Chap. 3. That said, we could seldom deny the fact that with the advancing of Japanese invasion in mainland China and the seizure of main cities by Japanese troops, Hong Kong took in more and more financial and human resources and became the vital cultural hub that



kept both commercial and political-purpose filmmaking in full-swing operation.7

Post-War Revival A mere bud in 1925, Hong Kong cinema lay dormant during the Guangzhou-­ Hong Kong general strike until its real foundation was laid during the mid-­ 1930s with the rise of Cantonese talkies. War, along with cultural stimuli from the mainland to the north, was a catalyst for rapid changes. (Law and Bren 2004, p. 140)

After the war, the KMT government started to incorporate cultural industry companies into state-run businesses. A group of film staffs and performers who used to work in the Japanese-occupied areas were soon labeled as “traitors” or “enemy collaborators”. All these unfavorable factors and the civil war between KMT and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) soon after further drove another wave of southbound cultural workers on-exile. Jiang Boying (蔣伯英), who made a huge fortune in southwestern mainland China as a theater owner and film distributor, decided to resurrect his film production company, and he chose Hong Kong as the base in 1946. Jiang’s Great China Film Company (大中華影業公司) was founded under assistance from a group of experienced film production managers and producers. Among them, Shaw Cunren (邵邨人), brother of aforementioned Shaw Zuiweng, leased Tianyi’s Hong Kong filming studio— Nanyang to the Great China Film Company. There, Great China Film Company produced films that were largely exported to the markets in mainland China and Southeast Asia with 34 Mandarin films and 9 Cantonese films in 1946–1948. In 1947, Great China was the film company that produced most films in the market, mostly Mandarin Chinese films (Chung 2011; Law and Bren 2004, p.  145).8 In 1948, the Great  Though Shanghai’s film production still existed, most of the production took place in the concession zones or was sustained by gaining support from the Japanese side (e.g. film tycoon Zhang Shankun kept producing films under Japanese support). Therefore, to film professionals originating from mainland China, Hong Kong was the only adjacent place where, under a free economy and laissez-faire political system, they could keep producing films as the same as in the pre-war era. 8  In 1947, among the 86 films in total, 72 were Cantonese production and 14 were in Mandarin. Great China Film Company produced 20 films, among which 12 were in Mandarin. Noteworthy is that, in order to expand the market, Great China Film Company 7



China Film Company moved back to Shanghai. In the immediate postwar period, with hundreds of cultural workers in this tiny colony, it was the mainland Chinese Mandarin film elites who were financially capable to revive the Hong Kong film industry from ruins. Similar but different, in the immediate post-war era, the revival of Cantonese film business took place neither in Hong Kong nor in South China. As one of the earliest Cantonese feature films was produced by Joseph Chiu in San Francisco, the post-war re-establishment of the Cantonese film industry was again thanks to this Cantonese-American Joseph Chiu. During the Pacific War when Hong Kong was under control by Japanese with local film industry seriously interrupted, Grand View re-­ moved back to the United States and continued Cantonese film production there, making San Francisco, where is also the place Joseph Chiu comes from, shelter of Cantonese film (more details will be covered in Chap. 3). A total of 21 Cantonese films were made in Grand View during that time. After the war, Chiu returned to Hong Kong with some of the made-in-US Cantonese films. Hong Kong audiences hilariously welcomed the return of Cantonese films and flocked to theaters. Chiu even brought along from the United States the special projectors for his 16mm film productions. Grand View made more revenue than expected from local screening and film distribution in Southeast Asia (Fonoroff 1997). Seeing this, Chiu decided to invest more in a new studio and filming devices, and thus gradually leading Hong Kong’s Cantonese film business recovery. Following Grand View’s America-produced Cantonese film productions, the first locally produced Cantonese film was My Love Comes Too Late/Lang Gui Wan 郎歸晚 (1947). It was filmed in cooperation between an American film distribution company and a Hong Kong local studio. This film got huge success not only in local box office but also in overseas market, especially in Southeast Asia. The popularity of this film, in addition to its attention-grabbing cast of “King of South China Film” Ng Cho-fan and the sought-after Cantonese opera diva Pak Yin (白燕), was largely due to the film theme song—an adaptation from a Cantonese folk tune Flowing Water Floating Cloud/Liu Shui Xing Yun 流水行雲. The melodic string-led tune, the plain-voiced Cantonese rhyme and the

also dubbed Cantonese version for the Mandarin production. Interestingly, revenue from Cantonese films, even the dubbed version from Mandarin, was higher than those gained from Mandarin production.



emotion-­stimulating lyrics very soon turned this traditional song cum film song a hit at the time, so does the movie itself. Hong Kong-produced Cantonese films themselves turned out a border-­ crossing fad. They were distributed to countries for good rewards: distribution in the Malaya, the Netherlands, East Indies and Vietnam cost 8000 dollars per film, 1500 per film for Philippines and Siam and 3500 per film for North America and South America. The overseas box-office income of each film was also jaw-dropping, which could reach triple the local box-­ office revenue. Since then, overseas market has gradually become the lifeline for the whole Hong Kong film industry. In another way round, Hong Kong-made films gained increasing popularity in overseas markets where Sinophone immigrants filled seats in theaters, craving for a taste of Cantonese folk culture and a glimpse of their favorite superstars who spoke the immigrants’ mother-tongue on the silver screen. Contrary to the escalating popularity of Cantonese films, Mandarin films were mainly for local distribution, rarely for overseas markets (Yu 1997b, p. 122; Jarvie 1977, pp. 18–19). Cantonese films mushroomed in 1947 with 72 Cantonese and 17 Mandarin productions, and the figures escalating to 123 and 18, ­respectively, in the next year.9 In that period of time, Hong Kong’s cinescape was also filled with bilingual works as Mandarin films were dubbed in Cantonese to secure local box-office intake. In the Kowloon peninsula, a “mini quasi-Hollywood”—pre-life of Hollywood in the East—was gradually formed, filled with film studios around the district of Kowloon City. Actually, before the Sino-Japan war, when Hong Kong welcomed its nascent golden age of film production, this area already housed film studios at different corners. The post-war revival made this area robust again. Major studios included Nan Yang, which was leased to Great China; the Grand View studio; Nan Guo (南國) (a left-leaning company producing educative Cantonese films) and some others in relatively smaller scale.

Hong Kong Films in the Cold War Immediately following the Sino-Japan war was the civil war between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the KMT.  Lasting four years, in 1949, the CCP founded the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in main9  Numbers estimated from Winnie Fu ed. Hong Kong Filmography Vol. II (1942–1949). Quoted in Law Kar and Frank Bren (2004), p. 145.



land China, while the KMT ceased to Taiwan to keep the former Republic of China (ROC) survive. Taiwan, a Japanese colony during 1895–1945, became the base for the ROC government to proclaim its representation of the orthodox Chinese culture and political legitimacy. The political turmoil seldom stopped here. The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 unveiled the Cold War between two superpowers at that time: the Soviet Union and the United States. While the CCP-controlled mainland China fell in the arms of the Soviet Union side, the Taiwan-based ROC belonged to another side. “Globalization”, in this process, took place across the Pacific with monetary and human resources coming from the United States to support the KMT-behold “Freedom China”—first in Nanjing and then in Taipei. Thus, it is noteworthy that the Cold War was far from merely a “war” of political powers. Instead, it ranged from world politics to everyday life. The 1950s Hong Kong was by all means a meeting point. Under the Cold War umbrella, Hong Kong, due to its special geo-political position, stepped onto the front lines receiving flows of money and human bodies from all directions. Hong Kong had become a frontline city of political, cultural and ideological conflicts against the backdrop of the Cold War and the “CCP vs. KMT” duel. As a British colony, Hong Kong was by default on the American side. But its long-term geographical adjacency and cultural proximity with South China inevitably shrouded this colonial territory with impacts from mainland China. As the Cold War was never about politics alone, Hong Kong in the Cold War was about the multi-­ layered and kaleidoscopic undercurrents in different social sectors, including the film industry (Roberts and Carroll 2016). The Cold War has marked a special period of post-war Hong Kong, and it was not until the 2000s that the Cold War and its crucial impact on contemporary Hong Kong society became acknowledged and re-assessed by the academia. It is also due to the chemical reaction from “Hong Kong in the Cold War”, a historical contingency during which Hong Kong’s film industry encountered decades of intriguing and fascinating development, which has vested far-reaching impact on its future. In 1947, a grand film company was founded in Hong Kong—Yung Hwa Motion Picture Industries (永華影業公司), co-launched by S.  K. Chang (also known as Zhang Shangkun 張善琨) and Lee Tsu-yung (also known as Li Zuyong 李祖永). The former one was the “king of movie business” in Shanghai and the latter one was also a Shanghai-based entrepreneur. With the most advanced equipment purchased overseas, Yung



Hwa’s general manager Lee Tsu-yung was determined to “win back our audience and march to overseas market with the best production” (Yu 1997b, pp.  163–166). Yung Hwa’s inaugural production was Soul of China/Guo Hun 國魂 (1948), an epic historical film dedicated to the life story of a legendary ancient Chinese hero. Soon after, another blockbuster, Sorrows of the Forbidden City/Qing Gong Mishi 清宮秘史 (1948), was released. This film shed lights on incidents that drove modern Chinese history—reforms taken in the late Qing Dynasty and conflicts between the Emperor Guangxu and the Empress Cixi. Directed by prominent directors—Li Pingqian (李萍倩) and Zhu Shilin (朱石麟)—this epic blockbuster featured superstars at that time including Zhou Xuan (周旋) and Shu Shi (舒適). The film cost was regarded as an exorbitant budget at that time (ten times of the average cost), targeting a wide market including Singapore and Malaya where the Cathay Organisation (a prominent film industry tycoon later had significant influence in Hong Kong) controlled the theater market. By then, Yung Hwa and Cathay had already established business partnership. Moreover, the Sorrows of the Forbidden City was the first Hong Kong film listed in an international film festival, the Festival del film Locarno (Yu 1997b, p. 156). The KMT government found that Yung Hwa’s films complied with their ideology (e.g. promotion of ancient Chinese intelligentsia morale) and assisted Yung Hwa’s overseas film distribution. Later, the KMT government even supported the company when Yung Hwa was meshed in financial troubles. As a result, unplanned yet unavoidable, Yung Hwa was categorized as a right-leaning company. During that period, in the Cold War context, the American government supported various forms of cultural activities in order to disseminate messages indirectly. Among them, one example was the twins—Asian publisher (亞洲出版社) and Asian Film (亞洲影業). The film company, without much doubt, was categorized right-leaning camp. Half Downward Society/Ban Xialiu Shehui 半下流社會 (1957) was a prominent novel published by the Asian Publisher and was later adapted into a feature film. Depicting life in Hong Kong’s Rennie’s Mill (aka Tiu Keng Leng, a zone housed a large group of KMT veterans in post-war period), both the novel and the film, though in a most subtle way, implied fear of the communist party among a group of intellectuals (Wong and Lee 2009). The left-leaning side was equally influential as their counterparts. A group of left-leaning filmmakers, some were from mainland China and some were Hong Kong locals, founded film companies which were mostly based on communist and collectivistic ideology: Da Guangming (大光明)



and the Fifties (五十年代). This group of filmmakers also formed their leftist alliance, aiming at attacking social inequality and educating the society with mass cultural productions, such as films. However, against the background that the British government circumvented left-leaning activities and some filmmakers moved back to mainland, the above companies re-organized after a few years. The Fifties was then transformed into Feng Huang movie enterprise (鳳凰影業). Sun Luen film company (新聯影業) was established in 1952 by a leftist newspaper chief editor Liu Yat Yuen (廖一原). Sun Luen represented the left force in the Cantonese film circle and had recruited a group of well-known film talents such as Lee Tit and Ng Cho-fan (Yu 1997c). Another eminent company was the Great Wall (長城電影), which was originally founded by S. K. Chang, the aforementioned film tycoon. However, due to political and ideological divergence between Chang and another co-founder Yuan Yang-an (袁仰安), Chang withdrew and Yuan turned the company to a left-leaning supporter. By the 1950s, the Great Wall, Feng Huang and Sun Luen were the signature leftist film companies in Hong Kong, having close relationship with the ­CCP-­led China (for more details of Hong Kong film in the Cold War, see Chap. 3) Cleaning-Up Movement and Pre-pay System As the Cold War was never about international politics alone but sprawling in everyday life, entailing impact from the Cold War and the political conflicts among two Chinas vested profound impact on both corporation and individual levels in the Hong Kong film industry. Tides of lofty yet subtle conflicts between those from mainland China and the Hong Kong locals loomed in the field. On the one hand, to the large number of cultural workers from mainland China who sought shelter in Hong Kong, they were determined to speak for the progressive socialism and the new China. They seldom concealed the despise on Hong Kong’s film production and strived to urge Hong Kong’s “backward” counterparts to catch up with the historical tide. In their eyes, Hong Kong’s capitalist and hedonistic entertaining films were poisonous and narcotic. On the other hand, such condescension also showed mainland Chinese filmmakers’ incompatibility to Hong Kong’s mass society. As discussed in the introduction chapter, Hong Kong local culture has been for a long time distant from the so-called central-plain culture, while



more proximate to the Cantonese cultural circle. This leads to a fact that Hong Kong, altogether with the Pearl River Delta, has cultivated a unique cultural sphere that is rooted in the mass society—people’s everyday life, economic activities and daily encounters with multi-cultural travelers— instead of political heroes or noblemen. Film scholar Stephen Teo (1997, p. 18) commented that “the perception of Mandarin cinema as being the representative Chinese cinema cultivated an epic mentality in the minds of big-time producers … resources were focused on a handful of epic productions …. As the Mandarin cinema struggled to survive and find an identity that showed it was closer to Hong Kong and not homesick for Shanghai, the Cantonese cinema slipped easily into the role of manifesting an identity that Chinese all over the region could relate to”. Despite that mass audience-oriented Cantonese films were popular among audience, a group of Cantonese filmmakers actually were partially allied with the mainland Chinese intellectuals and were dissatisfied with some negative features among the Cantonese film industry, such as the scarcity of educational value and low-quality production. Though not all Cantonese films were coarsely made, to this group of filmmakers, a large number of Cantonese films at that time were far below filmic artisan standards. In 1949, the first “Cleaning-up Movement” (粵語電影清潔運動) was initiated by a group of Mandarin filmmakers such as the prominent screen-­ play writers Cai Chusheng and Xia Yan (夏衍), and some Cantonese film professionals. They advocated a self-critical approach in filmmaking and subsequently founded the Association of Film Workers in China to campaign the ideation. Advocation of forming a cooperative film company was also raised by Cantonese filmmakers such as Lo Dun (盧敦) and Su Yi (蘇 怡). “Without getting any pre-paid reward, each staff invests their salary as the initiative base of the film production. After the film completion and public release, the revenue will be distributed according to contribution. This cooperative system guarantees the freedom of choosing the appropriate film script and making progressive films, without being watched by investors” (Yu 1997b, p. 213). Though in the first place such an idea was merely conceptually connoted, within a few years, such a cooperative system was eventually turned into reality by some local organizations, which later became a landmark in Hong Kong film history. Before proceeding to elaborate on the cooperative film companies which “cleaned up” the condescended Cantonese film ecology, it is neces-



sary to take a glimpse into the industry landscape in the post-war Hong Kong. As mentioned earlier, in 1947, My Love Comes Too Late revived the Cantonese film industry and unlocked the huge market in Southeast Asia among Cantonese-speaking migrant population. Since then, overseas market became the lifeline of Cantonese films, especially after the CCP-led China closed the door to film importation during the Cold War, while Taiwan was much less receptive to Cantonese-speaking films. Even though Cantonese films could be re-adapted to a Mandarin version, the esthetic style and cultural taste of Cantonese films were distant from those in Taiwan. Therefore, the Southeast Asian market and Hong Kong films made a win-win partnership under this context: as the post-war audience market in Southeast Asia was in demand of entertainment products, while their local film industry had not yet firmly revived, Hong Kong filmmakers found it difficult to make a break-even in the local small-sized market. Pre-sale system (片花) was one of the frequently used profit-making strategy and became the blood of financing Cantonese film making: investors (overseas film distributors and theater owners) paid certain amount of money to Hong Kong film producers before films were shot. This amount of money became the initial capital of film production. In other words, film producers invested little money on it. The pre-pay deal was usually made according to the submitted story line and casting of the leading roles. The rationale behind was simple: the stories were very often cliché family melodrama or period drama which heavily relied on and enriched by the aforementioned Cantonese opera singers’ regular singing performance. To overseas migrant population who were mostly originated from Cantonese-speaking regions, the star faces and their singing were the most familiar forms of stage entertainment. Famous Cantonese opera singers could easily secure box-office turnout. This cultural proximity encouraged Cantonese film producers to largely adopt “sing-song” film format when selling films to overseas investors. By this means, investors were also assured to hand in the “down payment” to film producers before seeing an actual product. After getting the down payment which was used to kick off the film shooting, in the middle of the film shooting, producers started to approach more overseas theater owners (usually those in Chinatowns in Southeast Asia, Europe and North America) to sell overseas screening permits of the in-the-make film. By this end, with the pre-paid down payment and the later overseas permit fees, film producers in Hong Kong already



paid back the film production cost. After the film release, box-office revenue from local and overseas markets became profits alone. In the 1950s–1960s, Cantonese films were in high demand in the overseas market and this pre-pay system can almost secure the cost-reward balance. In the mid-1950s, 50%–60% income of Cantonese films was from the overseas market: Southeast Asia under British colony, Indonesia under the Netherlands colony, Vietnam, Thailand and American continent (Yu 1997d, p. 31). Therefore, Hong Kong local producers massively adopted this system and filmed Cantonese opera films, which, due to its short producing time and affordable investment, were mocked as “seven-day wonder”(七日鮮), and the directors were teased as “Wan-ton noodle director” (雲吞麵導演).10 Consequently, a large number of “one film company” (一 片公司) could be found in the industry. “One film company” aimed at gaining quick profits by making use of the pre-pay system, while disregarding filmic production quality and esthetics. From the filmography of Hong Kong Film Archive, we could see quite a number of companies which appear on the list only once. A feasible guess could be concluded that they were the so-called one film company. However, it is by no means that all Cantonese films or Cantonese “sing-­ song” films were low-quality productions. And Cantonese opera has always been closely related to Hong Kong film industry. For better or not, performers, scripts, narrative elements and even costume designs from the Cantonese opera domain had vested influential impact on Hong Kong’s filmmaking. Actually, in the 1950s and 1960s, Cantonese opera sing-song film was one of the major genres in the industry. For example, in 1959, classic Cantonese operas Princess Cheung Ping/Di Nu Hua 帝女花 and The Legend of Purple Hairpin/Zi Chai Ji 紫釵記 were adapted into Cantonese films. The latter one was directed by the renowned director Lee Tit, while the former one was directed by the then novice director John Woo (吳宇森), who later became a maestro of gangster films and film 10  Because the films were based on existing Cantonese operas, almost all necessary elements such as script, narration, music, costume and props could be borrowed from Cantonese opera troupes. No outdoor shooting was required as even the backdrop setting was already prepared. Therefore, the responsibility of the director was giving the signal of “camera” and “cut”, and positioning the lens. Once “camera” signal was given, the director could enjoy a bowl of Wan-ton noodle (a Cantonese signature food) when the Cantonese opera singer performed on his/her own. Due to the low efforts invested by “Wan-ton noodle directors” (雲吞麵導演), seven days were more than enough. Cantonese opera films therefore were also called “seven-day wonder” (qi ri xian 七日鮮).



noir. The films did gain high reputation in terms of filming techniques and esthetics (Yu 1997d, pp. 180–183). According to a filmography compiled by the Hong Kong Film Archive, in the 1950s and 1960s, “authentic” opera films and costume musicals derived from Cantonese operas already numbered 637 in two decades. In order to regain the respect of professional film performers, a separation between Cantonese opera singers (Ling 伶) and film actors (Xing 星) was suggested among the industry: Cantonese opera singers should focus on stage live performance while film actors belong to the silver screen. The movement was termed as Ling Xing Fen Jia (伶星分家). This is consistent with the 1949 wave of “Clean-up Movement” that encouraged films should serve the revelation of social reality instead of offering pure amusement. That said, according to the latest oral history, the “separation” actually seldom means serious conflicts among these talents despite minor misunderstandings occasionally. In Lo Dun’s retrospect, this so-called separation was an advocacy to condemn a large group of opportunist companies—“one film companies”. Given that in the immediate post-war period, different lifestyles could be found among drama film professionals and Cantonese opera artists, they respected each other’s profession and code of ethics. After all, for this large group of cultural practitioners who experienced the wartime and participated in making national defense films, they had cultivated a community identity. Hence, the “cleanup” was more about the intention from a group of film directors who hoped to restore the industrial integrity than a “purge” in the industry.11 In 1952, under the umbrella of cleaning up and uniting filmmakers, a number of Cantonese film companies were established based on the principle of cooperative collectivism: Union Film Enterprise (Chung Luen 中聯), Wah Kiu Film Company (華僑) and Sun Luen. Among the three, Chung Luen offered a significant example of promoting humanistic and educational values through films. It was co-established by 21 prominent Cantonese film talents, who contributed their salaries to be the shareholders: Ng Cho-Fan, Pak Yin, Wong Man-lei (黃曼梨), Lee Tit, Ng Hui, Lee Sun-fung and so on. Compared to the “seven-day wonder”, Chung Luen’s production on an

11  Refer to “Pioneer of drama film—Lo Dun” in program Re-discover Cantonese film (粵語 長片重出江湖), hosted by Prof. Ng Chun-hung, a podcast program produced by RTHK. Access via http://www.rthk.hk/radio/radio1/programme/cantonesefilm.



average took six weeks and cost more than twice that of the Cantonese opera films. Chung Luen emphasized cooperative creation, which required all parties (scriptwriter, director and actor) to participate in the script creation. In terms of the filming techniques, in strong contrast to the “Wan-­ton noodle directors”, Chung Luen required more comprehensive and multi-layered lens operation. Chung Luen hoisted the banners of anti-­feudalism and anticapitalism in their film productions which numbered 43 in the company’s 15-years’ life. Applauded works that demonstrate meticulously planned story lines, sophisticated filming techniques and thought-provoking social values include In the Face of Demolition/Weilou Chunxiao 危樓春曉 (1953), Father and Son/Fu yu Zi 父與子 (1954), an adaptation of Chinese literature epic trilogy—Home, Spring, Autumn (家春秋)—penned by the mainland Chinese New Cultural Movement pioneer Ba Jin (巴金), and a lot more to be named. In its life span, during 1952–1967, the cooperative collectivismbased Chung Luen played an exceptional role in Hong Kong’s film industry and in the society with a series of educational, yet somewhat indoctrinating, films that were of high esthetic and socio-cultural value. Among the large number of Cantonese sing-song films, Chung Luen’s works, all in Cantonese, were regarded a stream of clear spring. Chung Luen’s films are still influential in today’s Hong Kong film studies and popular culture. In 1956, the annual film production in Hong Kong (200/252) was already ranked fifth in the global market, following the United States (354), Japan (302) and India (259) (Yu 1997d, p. 84).12 Supplementary data could also refer to Tables 2.4 and 2.5. In addition, the uniqueness of Hong Kong film industry at that time was attributed to blossom of multi-­ linguistic film productions such as Teochew films and Amoy films. The number of Amoy film productions once even exceeded that of Mandarin films.

From Industrial Revival to Prosperity—The 1960s The émigré talent built from scratch a Mandarin-speaking component of the Hong Kong film industry by virtually transplanting the Chinese film industry to Hong Kong … This achievement came about largely as an accident of history

12  The number of Hong Kong film productions of that year varied between the reported number by the Hong Kong Filmography published by the Hong Kong Film Archive and the number reported by Yu Mo-wan.



Table 2.4  Hong Kong Films in different languages in the post-war period

1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 Total

Cantonese Film

Mandarin Film

Amoy Films

Teochew Films

173 141 186 140 112 189 249 164 162 166 222 222 193 188 182 143 111 2943

16 16 73 48 55 46 62 59 73 68 52 41 39 44 42 40 56 830

1 11 10 4 14 18 20 39 70 89 19 6 2 8 2 0 1 314

1 1 1 3 9 11 0 21 20 8 18 1 94

Data collated from: 1. Hong Kong Filmography (1914–2010), Hong Kong Film Archive, Hong Kong; 2. Ng  M (Ed.). 2012. The Amoy-dialect Films of Hong Kong (香港廈語電影訪蹤). Hong Kong Film Archive, Hong Kong; 3. Chung  PYS 2011, Hundred-year of Hong Kong Film Industry 香港影視業百年, Joint Publishing Hong Kong, Hong Kong; 4. Yu MW 1997c, History of Hong Kong Film (vol. four)—The ninety-fifties 香港電影史話(卷四)—五十年 代上, Sub-culture Publisher, Hong Kong; 5. Yu MW 1997d, History of Hong Kong Film (vol. five)—The ninety-fifties 香港電影史話(卷五)—五十年 代下, Sub-culture Publisher, Hong Kong;

Table 2.5 Total number of films produced annually—in comparison (1950s–1980s) Year


United States





1950 1955 1959 1960 1965

202 227 246 273 203

361 305 223 211 191

241 271 312 324 325

115 423 500 423 490

/ 20 17 12 11

/ / / 67 193

Cited from: Leung GL, 1993, The evolution of Hong Kong as regional movie production and export center. MPhil thesis, Chinese University of Hong Kong. p. 23 Source: UNESCO Statistical Yearbooks 1972–1992



through China’s decision to cut itself off from the rest of the world … Hong Kong became the sole outlet of Cantonese movies to territories around the world—particularly Southeast Asia—where the Cantonese dialect spelled not only entertainment but fraternity and identity to overseas Chinese communities. Stephen Teo (1997, p. 18)

The “Cleaning-up Movement” once became the silver lining of the industry that was fraught with opportunist business. But facing the arrival of grand studios from Southeast Asia, the Cantonese film industry encountered another inevitable challenge from Mandarin films. This time was less about political conflicts than money: entertainment tycoons from Southeast Asia vested jaw-dropping economic prowess on producing silver screen splendor to conquest the market. While Cantonese film production numbered more than 200 in 1961, the number dramatically dropped to 35 in 1970 and only 1 in 1971. Despite such dramatic transition, to many film professionals and cinemagoers, the 1960s by all means marked one of the most colorful pages in film history. Besides the aforementioned Mandarin and Cantonese film companies, the 1960s Hong Kong attracted a number of gifted film tycoons who roved over the industry by bringing in world-class filmmaking operation and management: urban melodrama pioneer Kong Ngee Motion Picture Production (光藝製片) operated by Malayan Ho brothers; Run Run Shaw (邵逸夫) who ran the Shaw Brothers Film Company (aka  Shaw Brothers, 邵氏兄弟國際影業) and Loke Wan Tho (陸運濤) who  operated the Cathay cinema chain and film production company (also known as Motion Pictures and General Investment Film Company—MP&GI). Urban Exuberance in Cantonese Films The Cantonese film industry was generally represented by four big brothers, left or right leaning, led the trend of urbanized and localized melodrama: Chung Luen, Sun Luen, Wah Kiu and Kong Ngee. Noteworthy is that Kong Ngee sparked the field by introducing a group of bright-­ looking young idols. Far from the previous generation of film stars who were at their mid-age and had already established career height on Cantonese opera stage when becoming film stars, this group of up-and-



coming film actors brightened the silver screen by bringing forth brandnew faces, body moves and dress code glittering a sense of modernity and exuberance. Owned by prominent Chinese Malayan Ho’s family, Kong Ngee Motion Picture Production ran a chain of theaters in Singapore and Malaya since 1937. In 1955, Ho set up the Hong Kong company to produce Cantonese films. During its life span in Hong Kong between 1955 and 1968, more than 60 features were made. A group of directors in Kong Ngee were veteran film talents from Chung Luen, well known for their persistent technological sophistication and esthetic demand, such as Chun Kim (秦劍), Lee Tit, Lee Sun-fung and Ng Wui. It is said that Kong Ngee continued the legacy of Chung Luen by featuring the life of Hong Kong’s lower middle class. Kong Ngee was also famous for training new stars who represented the new generation of Hong Kong youth: Patrick Tse Yin (謝賢), Ka Ling (嘉 玲), Nam Hung (南紅) and Kong Suet (江雪). Thanks to Kong Ngee’s established chain of theaters in Southeast Asia, these young idols were promoted and had regular stage appearances overseas, becoming ­household names among the large overseas immigrant population. It is understood that the sudden yet irresistible gradual retreat of Kong Ngee in the industry in the late 1960s partially caused the downturn of the whole Cantonese film industry. Despite the short life of Kong Ngee in Hong Kong film industry, the young idols mentioned above renewed the industrial landscape and gradually replaced the previous generation stage-pillar Cantonese opera performers such as the then most sought-after Yam-Pak duo (任白): Yam Kim-fai (任劍輝), the all-time “film fan lover” featured in more than 30 films per year and her long-time stage-cum-screen partner Pak Suet-sin (白雪仙). The new generation of film stars, the heroines from Kong Ngee and other Cantonese film companies (e.g. Chi Luen film company 志聯) brought to the society waves of exuberance through vivid impersonating typical roles in the modernizing world. The 1960s Hong Kong had gone through the immediate post-war uncertainty and saw an approaching new era of economic flight amid the city’s manufacturing industry. This post-war zeitgeist was personified by a group of up-and-coming stars, especially the female idols such as Chan Po-chu (陳寶珠) and Siao Fong-fong (蕭芳芳). A striking note was resounded when Chan and Siao played roles of some new urban characters: factory girls and teddy girls. The former one resonated a



trend in the 1960s Hong Kong which witnessed a rising number of female workers entering the job market, and the latter category revealed the increasingly rigorous urban life which was sometimes followed by youth problems and family problems in the fast-forward capitalist economy. Classics of that time included Factory Queen/Gong Chang Huanghou 工廠皇后 (1962) and Teddy Girls/Fei Nu Zhengzhuan 飛女 正傳 (1969), and the latter one was regarded the female version of the Hollywood teddy icon James Dean. Giants from Southeast Asia The Mandarin film giants from Southeast Asia turned out to be the greatest challenge in Hong Kong’s film industry. Loke Wan Tho was one among them. A Chinese Malaysian, owner of an influential cinema chain that constituted 80 theaters and head of a widespread distribution network in Southeast Asia, in 1955, Loke landed in Hong Kong and took over the then deceasing Yung Hwa studio. His Malayan-origin film corporate—Cathay Organisation was then named Motion Picture & General Investment Co. Ltd. (MP&GI, 國際電影懋業) in Hong Kong after Loke’s acquisition of Yung Hwa. With a group of film elites who received Western education and specialized in literature, drama and esthetics, the film group in Hong Kong produced a large number of films featuring “youth”, “middle-­ class”, “urban life”, “romance” and “comedy”. Household names such as Lin Dai (林黛) and Grace Chang (葛蘭) were groomed under MP&GI’s all-encompassing star-making system which co-­ orchestrated through the company’s films, magazines and promotional events home and abroad. In terms of “worlding” of Hong Kong films, going further than traditional Cantonese films which were sold to overseas immigrant communities, MP&GI started production-level international collaboration. Border-crossing exchange took place between MP&GI and Japanese prominent film group, the Toho Company (東寶株式會社). An awe-­ aspiring Hong Kong-Japan film trilogy was produced in the mid-1960s: A Night in Hong Kong/Xianggang zhi Ye 香港之夜 (1961), Star of Hong Kong/Xianggang zhi Xing 香港之星 (1963), and Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong/Xianggang Dongjing Xiaweiyi 香港.東京.夏威夷 (1963). Films were shot in multiple places, presenting the authentic tastes of “worlding” of popular culture in the Indo-Pacific rim, the base of the East Asian cultural circle. To note that, film productions from MP&GI were mainly in



Mandarin and were highly well received in both Hong Kong and overseas markets. Besides the Southeast Asian market where the Loke family already established their giant film distribution networks, Taiwan was a primary market as well due to MP&GI’s majority Mandarin production. Though MP&GI did have their Cantonese film department, it was operated in a much smaller scale. If not for a fatal accident that thoroughly put MP&GI into coma, the Hong Kong film development would have been re-written. In 1964, when MP&GI still enjoyed its gushed popularity home and abroad, a dramatic tragedy happened to the boss Loke Wan Tho. On his trip to Taiwan for attending a film festival, Loke and his wife died in a plane crash. This unexpected accident, with little doubt, stunned the whole East Asian film industry and brought irreversible misfortune to the company. Loke, by all means, was the soul of the company and a gifted film pioneer in the realm. According to Law and Bren (2004), after the death of Loke, though MP&GI attempted to continue competing with other giant film companies, such as the Shaw Brothers company, another significant film company in the 1960s Hong Kong, the company was lost in the dramatic socio-cultural vicissitudes, especially after the 1967 riot that occurred in Kowloon, Hong Kong; while MP&GI’s major competitor, Shaw Brothers took a bold step to experiment new-style martial art genre (new wuxia) and gained phenomenal success. Led by Run Run Shaw, the Shaw Brothers film company since the 1960s had been almost an equivalent to Hong Kong moving image popular culture. This entertainment empire created a localized “Hollywood system” in Hong Kong, with their family-style management (Shaw brothers managed different sectors of the whole film business across the region) and a highly systematic vertical integration of film production, distribution and exhibition. The Shaw Brothers built a grand studio at the Clearwater Bay, the largest one for the time being. Talents from Taiwan, Korea and Japan were recruited to keep the system thrive, so did the multi-cultural wisdom flooded into this dream factory. The Shaw Brothers studio was regarded a world-class one, equipped with a number of large-sized outdoor and indoor filming sites, dormitories for staffs and post-production editing departments. The significance of the Shaw Brothers to Hong Kong film industry was attributed to its pioneering role in introducing specialized martial art designers and instructors to filmmaking. Fighting scenes in previous action films usually were only simple limb movements, which were mostly improvised during filming. Shaw Brothers became the first Hong Kong film



company that introduced to filmmaking a vital position of professional martial art choreographers, who were responsible in meticulously planned realistic action choreograph and visual impact of blood and violence. Household names of martial art maestros, had their debut in the Shaw Brothers as martial art choreographers. Lau Kar-fai (劉家輝), a Kung Fu fighting actor belonging to the South China Kung Fu camp, was starred in a large number of household action films. Unreservedly demonstrating his powerful Kung Fu fighting with bare arms and feet, Lau Kar-fai projected an iconic masculine image of arduous and righteous Kung Fu man. Besides introducing specialized action instructors, Shaw Brothers excelled in the industry by presenting a group of maestro directors. Chang Cheh (張徹), an eminent director in the Shaw Brothers, created his signature Zen martial art inspired by Japanese samurai spirit. King Hu (胡金銓), an equally influential director of the grand studio, mastered filming new wuxia by infusing elements of ancient Chinese musical and operatic works. Both Chang and Hu were originated from mainland China, forming a renowned Kung Fu film bloc in the cine-scape—the fermentation of Shaw Brothers’ “new-style martial arts” (new wuxia). The new wuxia significantly differentiate from the previous generation which mostly focused on body movement. This new-style martial art was incorporated in Shaw Brothers’ both Cantonese and Mandarin films, narrating the organic relation between human power and the nature through virtuoso filmic language. Classics of this kind included The One-Armed Swordsman/Du Bi Dao 獨臂刀 (1967) and The Invincible Fist/Tieshou Wuqing 鐵手無情 (1969)—works that laid the founding stones for later globally eye-­catching development of Hong Kong-style martial art films. Generally speaking, Kung Fu action film section in Shaw Brothers was divided into two camps. Chang and Hu represented the North China Kung Fu camp with knight sword fighting that diffused the ambient of Zen—the inner energy cycle from body and soul is mingled with the mother nature and the whole universe. Another camp—the South China Kung Fu camp, however, featured unarmed fights—strengths and powers diffused by human body muscles which are obtained from life-long arduous training. This camp was led by prestigious Kung Fu masters such as Lau Kar-leung (劉家良) and Yuan Cheung-yan (袁祥仁). Besides playing a leading role in mastering Kung Fu films of various styles, Run Run Shaw invited Japanese directors and photographers to join the force, such as Inōe Umetsugu (井上梅次) and Tadashi Nishimoto (西本正). The Japanese talents innovated Shaw’s fashion films and costume



films by embedding metropolitan elements and revolutionized the costumed historical epic films by using the most advanced Eastman color wide-screen filming. Landmark pictures included the Mandarin blockbuster The Love Eterne/Liang Shanbo Yu Zhu Yingtai 梁山伯與祝英台 (1963). The Love Eterne was the historic highest grossing film of the era in Taiwan, turning Taipei city into a “town of craze” (more about Shaw Brothers’ cross-border film business is discussed in Chap. 3). Despite that Hong Kong society, as a colony adjacent to mainland China, had experienced primitive forms of border-crossing collaborations back in the 1930s (interestingly, Shaw family was already involved in the primitive regionalization back in that time), Shaw Brothers film business made this wave rove in full scale. As commented by Law and Bren (2004, p. 168) that, Run Run Shaw “was a traditional Chinese merchant with a sound business mind and a hands-on attitude. As an overseas Chinese, he was also willing to learn from foreign experience and to adopt a flexible approach, conservative and liberal tendencies that struck a remarkably harmonious balance”. Actually, in the 1950s and 1960s, the Shaw family’s film company had already established its Cantonese film unit. Before Run Run Shaw established the Shaw Brothers, it was his elder brother Shaw Cunren who ran the film company in Hong Kong, namely Shaw Father-and-Son film company (邵氏父子電影公司)—the pre-life of the latter glamorous Shaw Brothers. Since that time, Cantonese film unit already existed, and the first film was produced in 1957. Two leading figures were noteworthy: Mak Kei (麥基) and Lam Fung (林鳳). Mak Kei was famous for his long-lasting teddy boy image in films which were mostly inspired by the Hollywood classic Rebel Without a Cause (1955) starring James Dean. Therefore, Mak Kei was regarded as “James Dean in the East”. Mak Kei along with Lam Fung starred in many popular films at that time. One of the most popular Shaw’s Cantonese film was When Durians Bloom/Liulian Piaoxiang 榴蓮 飄香 (1959). Lam Fung sang the theme song carrying the same title which became a popular song at that time. Despite that Shaw’s Cantonese film productions were less well known compared to Kong Ngee, Lam Fung, Shaw’s leading female actress, was actually equally virtuoso and popular along with other prominent actresses in that time, such as Grace Chang. Singing and dancing in many Shaw’s high-quality pictures, such as A Pretty Girl’s Love Affair/Yunv Chunqing 玉女春情 (1958), Lam Fung soon became an icon among the young generation. To a certain extent, this echoed the growing urban youth culture in Hong Kong (Yung 2003).



Noteworthy is that, besides When Durians Bloom, Shaw company produced a whole serial in 1959, targeting the Southeast Asian market: The Merdeka Bridge/Duliqiao Zhilian 獨立橋之戀 and Bride from Another Town/Guobu Xinniang 過埠新娘. While Shaw family’s contribution in the Cantonese film business was very often outshined by the later Shaw Brothers’ Mandarin blockbusters which were understood as a huge triumph of Hong Kong-made cinema across the globe, we could seldom deny the fact that the Shaw family entertainment empire for nearly a century has laid numerous milestones in Hong Kong’s popular cultural development ranging from motion picture, television and popular music to the general social-wide cultural impact. In the following chapters, we will have little difficulty in finding the proofs. Strongman Run Run Shaw and his Shaw Brothers’ film business, on the one hand, further modernized Hong Kong cinema-scape, while, on the other hand, exerted invincible pressure on Cantonese films and even ­partially caused a coma of the dialectic film industry. According to Law and Bren (2004, p. 177)’s argument, instead of blaming the large quantity of quick but shoddy production, the demise of Cantonese film production in the mid-1970s was more attributed to the ceasing of low-quality production companies. Other reasons included the retreat of Kong Ngee company, negative impact from mainland China’s Cultural Revolution on Hong Kong’s leftist film companies (leftist Sun Luen as one of the major Cantonese film producers) and the rising television culture. As a result, the number of Cantonese film production dramatically dropped in the late 1960s and reached its bottom point of zero production in 1972 (Tables 2.6 and 2.7).

A New Page in the 1970s New Challenger According to Ian Jarvie (1977, pp.  53–55), there was a considerable increase of “average moviegoers” at 37% by comparing 1961 and 1971, with the growing number of cinemas as well.13 Even in the wake of the 13  In Jarvie’s argument, if we follow the worldwide phenomenon that 10–35 years is the age of maximum movie attendance, Hong Kong showed a dramatic increase of moviegoers as the massive baby boomers significantly changed the Hong Kong demographic structure.



Table 2.6  Productions of major film companies, 1957–1970 Year

Shaw Brothers Cathay/MP&GI Great Wall and Feng Huang Other Independents

1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970

12 12 16 17 19 9 17 15 19 19 43 29 36 34

14 14 19 29 16 15 13 15 5 7 15 20 19 24

17 18 17 12 9 10 13 10 9 15 6 10 11 7

206 263 397 208 209 197 206 184 171 124 108 90 69 51

This table is cited from Law K and Bren F 2004, Hong Kong Cinema: A cross cultural view, pp. 319–320

Table 2.7  Number of Cantonese and Mandarin films in the 1960s and 1970s Year

Cantonese film

Mandarin film

1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973

222 222 193 188 182 143 111 104 83 63 22 1 0 3

52 41 39 44 42 40 56 63 72 95 116 126 161 198

This table is cited from Law K and Bren F 2004, Hong Kong Cinema: A cross cultural view, pp. 319–320

growing abundance of mass entertainment, movie viewing was still one of the favorite forms, due to “action”—action film served as the cream of the crop for the film industry in terms of drawing viewership. As over 70% of moviegoers were male, the action genre attracted young male audience (pp.  56–57), such as Shaw Brother’s new wuxia and Golden Harvest (嘉禾娛樂事業有限公司) Bruce Lee (李小龍) series.



The film giant Shaw Brothers film company dominated the market through the 1960s, but encountered new challenges in the 1970s. The challengers, along with the innovative business models and esthetic styles, had turned Hong Kong film industry into a new epoch. In the year 1970, the box-office top 20 films were still dominated by Shaw Brothers’ productions. But in 1971, Golden Harvest shocked the market by presenting Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss/Tangshan Daxiong 唐山大兄 (1971), which won the first place at the box office in that year (Chan 2000, p. 458 & p. 463),14 giving Shaw Brothers the film mogul an alarming hit. In the following years, Golden Harvest steadily took over the leading position in Hong Kong’s film market. Once a manager in Shaw, Chow Man-wai Raymond (鄒文懷) founded Golden Harvest studio in 1970. In strong contrast to the streamline production system and vertical integration adopted by the Shaw Brothers, Chow implemented a more flexible and decentralized mode, relying on satellite companies to handle film shooting matters and meanwhile Golden Harvest was responsible for the film presentation and distribution based on Chow’s well-established business networks. Usually, Golden Harvest had exclusive directors who had their own teams of cameramen, stunt squads and martial art choreographers. It is known that Golden Harvest had a close partnership with a number of newly born yet talented action professional teams, including Bo Ho (寶禾) film company by Sammo Hung (洪 金寶), Golden Way by Jackie Chan (成龍), Hui’s film production by Hui brothers 許氏兄弟 and Swank Motion Picture by Lo Wei (羅維). At the same time, Golden Harvest owned full-time prop and wardrobe departments which virtually had supported most pictures produced by Golden Harvest (Stokes and Hoover 1999, p. 23).15 The Cathay Organisation/ MP&GI leased the Yung Hwa studio to this newly found company, and Cathay itself became Golden Harvest’s legitimate distributor in Southeast Asia and even in the European region. Through this way, Chow gradually brought to Hong Kong’s film industry an independent production system

14  In 1970, the top first place in box office was Shaw Brothers production The Chinese Boxer/Long Hu Dou 龍虎鬥, with 2,076,659 box-office income. But in 1971, The Big Boss/Tang Shan Daxiong 唐山大兄 by Golden Harvest won the first place by earning 3,197,417, more than twice of the second place which was Duel of Fists/Quan Ji 拳擊 by Shaw Brothers. 15  Refer to the interview with veteran filmmaker Andre Morgan who worked at Golden Harvest.



outside of the long-dominating grand studio system (Chang 1989, pp. 82–83).16 Operating film business in this way, instead of building a Shaw Brothers’ mode of entertainment conglomerate, Raymond Chow shifted the focus from company-based production to filmmaker-oriented works. As a result, talented individuals were drawn to this newly established yet promising independent production system (HKAF 2013, pp. 26–27). In the first ten years of its establishment, Golden Harvest had significantly challenged the Shaw Brothers, especially in terms of box-office income (Po Fung 2013, p.  23).17 Golden Harvest’s breathtaking blockbuster productions ­repeatedly broke Hong Kong box-office records. In 1971, Bruce Lee was starred in The Big Boss/Tangshan Daxiong 唐山大兄 (1971) which made HKD 3.19 million at the box office and broke Hong Kong’s Chinese and non-­Chinese film records. In the following year, another Bruce Lee Kung Fu film The Fist of Fury/Jingwu Men 精武門 (1972) broke the record of The Big Boss. Very soon, at the end of the same year, again, Bruce Lee’s The Way of the Dragon/Menglong Guojiang 猛龍過江 (1972) set another new box-office record, which in turn became a welcome gift to the debut of Golden Harvest theater chain. Besides Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu legend, Hui brothers’ comedies also hit the market, such as Games Gamblers Play/Guima Shuangxing 鬼馬雙星 (1974) broke the box-office record by HKD 6.25 million in 1974 (HKAF 2013, pp. 210–211). The flexible mode of filmmaking inaugurated by Golden Harvest soon proved successful and became a trendsetter in the industry. In the years to come, the rising and increasingly matured independent filmmaking system showed high demand in film talents to meet the market need. This industrial trend to a large extent spared room of creativity for the new generation of directors who were later termed the Hong Kong New Wave.

16  According to Chang Cheh’s memoirs, it was by accident that Bruce Lee joined Golden Harvest. Golden Harvest and Raymond Chow’s business partner, Lo Wei, were responsible for the production and film shooting, respectively. It was due to the unexpected popularity of Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu films that Raymond Chow affirmed this flexible mode of film production. 17  In 1979, the gross box-office income of Shaw Brothers was double the Golden Harvest’s. But the number of film production by Golden Harvest was only a quarter of Shaw’s in that year. It means that the income for each Golden Harvest production was much higher than Shaw’s.



March to Hollywood and East Asia In terms of distribution, Golden Harvest acquired or built up partnerships with local theaters in Hong Kong to secure domestic exhibition. To unlock overseas markets, besides at the first few years relying on Cathay Organisation to reach Southeast Asian markets, Golden Harvest later cooperated with Japanese distributors and theaters to significantly expand the network. In the years to come, international cooperative production was further promoted as Golden Harvest gradually consolidated its business partnerships with counterparts from Japan, Korea and Thailand. Following Hong Kong’s long-term tradition of border-crossing production and distribution, Golden Harvest took a bold step to kick off collaboration with Hollywood in the United States by introducing the signature from our Hollywood in the East—martial arts. Back in 1923, a subtle connection between Hong Kong and Hollywood had started as Moon Kwan, who used to work in Hollywood, joined Hong Kong’s first film company China Sun. After 50 years, in 1973, legendary martial art icon Bruce Lee starred in Enter the Dragon/Long Zheng Hu Dou 龍爭虎 鬥, which significantly started the business connection between Hong Kong’s film company Golden Harvest with Warner Brothers in Hollywood. Though less than 10 pictures were performed by Bruce Lee before his sudden death in July 1973, his signature filmic works epitomized a special genre of Hong Kong films and even became the cultural representation of “Chinese Kung Fu”. Even after Lee’s death, his fame remained as the model of imitation and Golden Harvest continued to gain profits by re-­ screening Lee’s works (Po Fung 2013, p.  24). Moreover, the modern-­ style martial art performed by Bruce Lee, who received education in Hong Kong and in the United States and had real physical martial art training, made the Chinese term—Kung Fu, known to the Western audience and even stirred a wave of Kung Fu craze. According to Chung’s finding, Kung Fu films produced by Golden Harvest were exported to over 140 countries and regions, thanks to Raymond Chow’s well-established industrial networks around the world (Chung 2011, p. 229). After Bruce Lee’s sudden death, Golden Harvest continued its exploration to the international market. Throughout the 1970s to 1990s, the company strove to pave the way to reach the Western market, hiring Hollywood film professionals and producing more than ten Hollywood-­ style films. However, except for The Cannonball Run/Paodan Feiche 砲彈 飛車 (1981) and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Renzhegui 忍者龜



(1990), the box office of other productions were far from satisfactory (Ho 2013, pp. 70–75). Striving to be a powerful challenger to the former boss Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest continuously launched eye-opening works. Hui brothers’ comedies (Michael Hui 許冠文, Ricky Hui 許冠英) and another series of Kung Fu films featuring Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung continued the Golden Harvest miracle by repeatedly breaking box-office records (HKAF 2013, pp.  210–211). This success was highly correlated to the social change in the 1970s as Hong Kong had turned from an industrial economy to a service industry structure, from a shelter city for mainland Chinese refugees to home for the post-war baby boomers—the first generation of locally born and raised Hong Kongers. It is said that Michael Hui successfully portrayed the iconic Hong Kong grassroot man in the context of urban culture and post-industrial society: greedy, coward, snobbish and usually too clever by half. Along with this, the introduction of Canto-pop songs (popular songs sung in Cantonese) and Cantonese everyday conversation in films, the hilarious performance by Hui brothers and a group of young local actors as well as the realistic depiction of Hong Kong people’s daily life further drew mass audience to Golden Harvest films. Noteworthy is that, the sudden death of globally stunning superstar Bruce Lee hardly cut off Golden Harvest’s international connection. Subsequently, Hui brothers’ urban comedies and Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu comedies continued to gain fame in international market. The youthfulness and dramatic cinematic language portrayed by this new generation of Hong Kong film stars, at the juncture of the rising of Four Asian Tigers, strikingly echoed the taste of East Asian urban youth. Jackie Chan was even made into a pop idol in Japanese market (HKAF 2013).18 In a statistical report, there were five films written, directed and acted by Michael Hui that ranked first in box-office income of that year (Chan 2000, p. 40).19 Achievements made by Golden Harvest in the late 1970s and 1980s well proved Hong Kong’s vital role in the process of making the East Asian cultural circle. As two leading cities in the East Asian economic miracle, Hong Kong and Japan shared a lot in common, especially in 18  See the interview with Raymond Chow in “Raymond Chow: I am not disappointed by what I have done”, in Golden Harvest: Leading change in changing times, 2013. 19  They were Games Gamblers Play/Guima Shuangxing 鬼馬雙星 (1974), The Last Message/Tiancai Yu Baichi 天才與白痴 (1975), The Private Eyes/Banjin Baliang 半斤八両 (1976), The Contract/Mai Shen Qi 賣身契 (1978), Security Unlimited/Modeng Baobiao 摩登 保鑣 (1981).



terms of the drastic urbanization, cosmopolitan in-the-making and series of subsequent change in city landscapes. All these elements are more geographically and culturally bounded than visually appealing. While Bruce Lee’s thrilling fisting and kicking overcame language barriers and appealed to worldwide audience, the urban comedies by Golden Harvest in post-­ Bruce Lee era, to a certain extent, achieved border-crossing success through touching the subtle yet fundamental nerve that embedded in the regional paradigm shift (more about Hong Kong-Japan connection, see Chap. 3) The Hong Kong New Wave According to historian John Carroll (2007), the 1960s–1970s marked a new chapter in Hong Kong contemporary social formation as a sense of belonging to this tiny territory among ordinary mass was fermented along with the rising economic prosperity, transformation from manufacturing to service industry, improving public infrastructures, advantageous cultural hybridity and closer ties with China. The last factor, intriguingly, took effect as being a mirror: while Hong Kong was enjoying increasing socioeconomic status in the region, mainland China, after going through a destructive decade of Cultural Revolution, awaited development in ruins. Such strong contrast further boosted Hong Kong people’s self-­ esteem and Hong Kong’s identity. This milestone era of Hong Kong history was as well revealed on the silver screen. Hong Kong’s New Wave directors pierced into the core of Hong Kong society through peeling off layers of political-social textures. In the 1970s, as Hong Kong underwent drastic changes, an equally prominent milestone marked a new epoch of Hong Kong film history—the Hong Kong New Wave.20 Representative directors include but not limited to Cheung Kok-ming (章國明), Fong Yuk-ping (方育 平), Ann Hui (許鞍華), Tsui Hark (徐克), Tam Ka-ming (譚家明), Yim Ho (嚴浩) and Tang Shu Shuen (唐書璇)—a group of overseas-­ educated directors returned home in the 1970s. First, most of them joined the increasingly prosperous but competitive television industry, and later devoted to film production, tremendously renewing the landscape of 20  The Hong Kong New Wave is inspired by the historically significant role of La Nouvelle Vague in France in terms of the esthetic and content-wise novelty brought by a new generation of filmmakers.



Hong Kong films. In the early 1970s, there were no more than ten films annually directed by New Wave directors who were still working in the television industry. But the number increased to over 30 in the 1980s (Chung 2011, p. 278). When they joined the television industry, this group of directors was mostly young, barely over their 30s. The 1970s epitomized a historical era of “Hong Kong television war”, with three commercial television stations and one government-funded station. In the fierce television industry which was dubbed as a “Shaolin Temple”, foreign-trained young directors had multi-faceted practice and were encouraged to try new subjects in the television war. Meanwhile, noteworthy is that the young generation film directors were situated in one of the most critical transition of Hong Kong society, facing the rise of financial and service industry and the escalating Hong Kong identity. All these social and industrial conditions, along with their foreign education background, had contributed to the remarkable accomplishments the New Wave directors later made in the film industry. When the young professionals gradually gathered their first batch of filmmaking fund and quit the television circle in the late 1970s, without prior arrangement, they were like “lightning on a clear sky” (Cheuk 2008, p. 9). Films by this group of New Wave directors broadened audience’s horizon by means of artistic auteurship and their striking sensitivity toward the change of zeitgeist. It is also commented that this new generation of young directors would soon replace the previous generation prominent directors, who, to a certain extent, embraced nostalgic sentiments on a political-cultural entity called “China”—a diverse-faceted yet fragmented imaginative community based on feudalist dynasties, the pre-war Republican China, the KMT-controlled Republic of China or the Communist-led China. But to this latest generation directors, what they cared more was their homeland—Hong Kong and the series of immediate local social issues. Despite the fact that films for pure amusement and pictures implying a sense of ambiguously fragmented “Chinese” nostalgia for a long time had prevailed in Hong Kong’s film industry, in the wake of the post-war era, filmmakers in the 1950s commenced a quiet yet conscious localization process. Companies such as Chung Luen, Kong Ngee, Chi Luen and other companies produced works featuring Hong Kong local people’s everyday life, poor and rich, joy and sorrow, deeply rooted in Hong Kong’s particular political-economic structure and social change. It is understood



that the New Wave directors completed this journey toward localization of Hong Kong film industry. Before they joined the film industry, the young directors were already given room to probe into social issues in making of television episodes (television documentary). For example, Allen Fong’s work of youth living in public housing estates and Ann Hui’s episode of Vietnamese refugees made for the Below the Lion Rocks/Shizi Shanxia 獅子山下 serials of RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong—the BBC model broadcast in Hong Kong, more discussion in Chaps. 6 and 7). According to television and film expert Ng Ho 吳昊, even though RTHK is a governmental department, in the wake of the 1970s when Hong Kong’s identity was in consolidation under the colonial government’s reformative rule, staffs were encouraged to explore more local issues and tackle local residents’ real concerns (Ng 2003, pp. 10–13). The colonial government, after the 1967 riot, believed that by granting larger room of liberty and reformation to the mass society that a stable and resilient governance could be achieved. Therefore, the New Wave directors had their debuts by ­presenting thought-provoking topics that exposed controversial social problems and lives of the disadvantageous minorities. Film scholar Cheuk Pak-tong (2008, pp. 18–19) admits that through experienced similar training in the melting pot of television industry, these directors seldom intended to give a rupture to Hong Kong film history or overthrow the existing film industry order. Instead, it is their special and discernible passion of film artistry, creative sensibility and social consciousness that naturally characterizes them as the “new wave”. A number of characteristics of the new wave were further summarized by Cheuk: besides the aforementioned realistic societal and humanistic sensibility and local concern (e.g. Father and Son/Fu Zi Qing 父子情 1981 by Allen Fong, Dangerous Encounter—1st Kind/Diyi Leixing Weixian 第一類型危險 1980 by Tsui Hark), they portrayed writings of women (e.g. Song of the Exile/Ke Tu Qiu Hen 客途秋恨 1991 by Ann Hui), thoughts of Chinese émigrés (The Story of Woo Viet/Hu Yue de Gushi 胡越的故事 1981 by Ann Hui, Homecoming/Sishui Liunian 似水流年 1985 by Yim Ho) and the reconstruction of Chinese legends by using special technological effects (The Butterfly Murders/Die Bian 蝶變 1979 by Tsui Hark). Tang Shu Shuen even took a big risk and shot a film about the Cultural Revolution in China—China Behind/Zaijian Zhongguo 再見中國 (1974). Among the above groundbreaking works, China Behind is by all means a legend-like work. In order to make a film on this political taboo, she and her crew filmed most shots in Taiwan where they were forbidden to display



any objects carrying communist China symbols but had to operate secretly. The film was eventually barred by both the communist and the nationalist China and was censored by the Hong Kong colonial government. It is not until the 1980s that this film was gradually accessible to scholars and then public. China Behind was the first film that was censored by the laissezfaire colonial government due to the possibilities that the film would “damage good relations with other territories”. The New Wave had by all means renewed Hong Kong’s cine-scape. The 1970s was in fact a period brewing the diversity of Hong Kong’s film genre: the Hong Kong signature action films of Bruce Lee style, the rising trend of urban comedies by Hui brothers and feature films by the New Wave directors focusing on social issues. Other new genres such as Chinese ghost thrillers, gambling games and erotic films also started to gain proportionate market share (Chan 2000, pp. 47–51). Hence, situated in the dramatic vicissitudes of Hong Kong’s socio-political milieux, the New Wave along with the increasingly diversified film genres propelled the train of Hong Kong film industry forward to the 1980s.

Climax and Decline—The 1990s The success of Golden Harvest and the cinematic breakthroughs introduced by the New Wave directors rolled the wheel of Hong Kong film development. According to Stokes and Hoover (1999), several key points characterize the 1980s—an epoch widely regarded as the golden age of Hong Kong films: a prosperous and aspiring middle class, who, with relatively few entertainments, flocked to cinemas; box-office revenue skyrocketed in this period (Law 1999, pp. 30–38)21; Cantonese films revived in the mid-1970s and quickly made miraculous ripe due to the rising of local culture paralleled with the growth of locally raised young generation; the arrival of a large group of venture capitalists in the film industry, reflecting the expansion of bourgeoisie and the mentality of “get rich quick”, and the economic boom was echoed by the thriving of action films, comedies and romantic melodrama which featured urbanity of vibrancy, adventure, exhilaration and breathtaking sensual excitement. 21  According to Law Kar, the booming of box-office revenues was because of an increase in ticket prices. Due to the successful business mode that film production was integrated with film distribution in the 1980s, for the first time, the revenue of Hong Kong films surpassed foreign films.



Moreover, the critical transition of Hong Kong society in the 1980s inevitably led to unspoken anxieties and queries in terms of identity and destiny, both individually and socially. However, it is hard to deny that it was the glittering 1980s. If the 1960s was marked by the burgeoning quantity of filmmaking, the 1980s set a landmark for Hong Kong film industry with the triumph of box-office revenue. By that time, Hong Kong films had established a signature quasi-genre that distinguished from productions from other Sinophone communities. Hong Kong film thus was entitled “Gang Chan Pian” (港產片) (Chung 2011, p. 440).22 Facing the increasing cost of filmmaking and the drastic transformation of Hong Kong society with local people’s mentality change from being refugee to master of the city, in the late 1970s, the Shaw Brothers retreated from film industry and joined the television business to sustain its ­entertainment empire in Hong Kong (and also in the Asian region) and to adapt to the social change. The dazzling yet chaotic pace of Hong Kong’s social change, similar to the Cold War period, again attracted capitals and human talents from various directions. After all, cinemagoing became one of the most popular leisure activities among Hong Kong mass population and filmmaking turned out a lucrative business. Venture capitalists originated from different disciplines entered the film market. The Theater-Driven Film Business One conspicuous feature of the industry at that time was the vital role played by theaters, especially chain theaters/cinemas, which were largely equivalent to today’s film distributors. They gradually took multiple roles as both film producers and distributors. Noteworthy is that, even in the immediate post-war era, Hong Kong in 1950s–1960s already saw the emerging trend that theater owners involved in film production or vice versa. As mentioned, amid the left-right duel, there already existed camps of Mandarin and Cantonese films. Each camp was associated with their own theater chains. In the Cantonese film camp, “Kam Kok line” (金國 線) and “Tai Wan line” (太環線) were two market leaders. For example, 22  Throughout the previous decades, Hong Kong films were integrated in the Chinese film system and were called “national film” (Guo Pian). It was until the 1980s that Hong Kong film was specifically called “films made in Hong Kong” (Gang Chan Pian).



“Kam Kok line” consisted of a number of theaters: National Theater (pronounces “Kok Man” 國民戲院), Metropole Theater (pronounces “Kam Hwa” 金華戲院), Apollo Theater (新舞台) and so on. These theaters were owned by a prominent family—Kwan family 關氏 which not only invested in cinema business but also established their own film companies such as the aforementioned Cantonese film companies Chi Luen (志聯), as well as Kin Shing (堅成) and Tai Chi (大志). By this means, pictures produced by these film companies were directly supplied to theaters under the “Kam Kok line”. In the Mandarin film camp, it is not difficult to speculate that Shaw Brothers and MP&GI were two major rivals as they were both film production tycoons and by then both had already established their theater chains in Southeast Asia. Upon arrival in Hong Kong, they soon lined up with local cinemas and formed their distribution and exhibition networks by means of purchasing old cinemas, obtaining right of management or making alliances. In 1969, Shaw Brothers cut the ribbon for the grand opening of its own theater “the Jade” (翡翠戲院) and later “the Peal” (明 珠戲院) (Wong 2015, pp. 49–57). The two finely presented grand ­theaters presented to Hong Kong audience a wide range of Mandarin Chinese blockbuster productions from Shaw Brothers and equally appealing Western pictures, epitomizing a zenith of Shaw Brothers’ film business in the early 1970s which brought Cantonese film industry to a temporary coma (Image 2.4). The demise of MP&GI following the sudden decease of Loke Wan Tho did not give Shaw Brothers a long-time triumph. Run Run Shaw soon met the new challenger Golden Harvest. Golden Harvest not only gave birth to a reformed theater line which consisted of ten theaters across Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula, but also brought to the industry a new mode of film production and distribution. The rise of the flexible system based on a large number of independent filmmaking companies led to the increasingly important role of theater groups which became the life blood to filmmaking in the 1980s. Besides screening films, theaters (the owners) became filmmaking investors themselves. By this means, a quasi-­ vertical film production-distribution system was formed, as theater owners invested in filmmaking, they then secured sufficient time slots and screens for the film products. To filmmakers, this was a tempting deal that both covered production cost and secured distribution. We can see that different from Shaw Brothers’ vertical integration model, independent companies in much smaller scale were highly dependent on theater groups and



Image 2.4  Apollo Theatre in 1960s. Apollo Theatre at Castle Peak Road and Tonkin Street of Cheung Sha Wan in 1965. In the picture, we can see that Apollo Theater is exhibiting two latest feature films produced by Kin Shing film company. (Courtesy to Special Collections, The University of Hong Kong Libraries)

distributors to make the films visible to the market. The 1980s marked an age of fierce competition among theater groups. If films were the blood of the industry, theaters were the artery. One leading icon company in the 1980s film industry was the Cinema City Company (新藝城影業). With a group of diligent local film talents (the first company formed by them was literally called “diligent film company”) and considerable amount of capital from the Golden Princess (金 公主) theater group, the Cinema City brought to the city stunning breakthroughs. Raymond Wong Pak-ming (黃百鳴), Karl Maka (麥嘉) and Shek Tin (石天), the trio of filmmakers and actors, established the Cinema City in 1980 which was invested by the Golden Princess theater chain. The huge capital foundation and the widespread cinema networks in Hong Kong guaranteed sufficient public exposure of the film products and further encouraged Cinema City take bold step to expand the creation team soon after. For example, experienced filmmakers Tsui Hark and Nancy Shi (施



南生) were recruited; superstar Sam Hui (許冠傑), the youngest of the sought-after Hui’s brothers, was invited to join the Aces Go Places/Zui Jia Paidang 最佳拍檔 series and Taiwanese film actress Sylvia Chang (張艾嘉) was invited to join the creation and acting team. Film serials by the Cinema City broke box-office records repeatedly, reminding people the glamorous achievement made by Golden Harvest ten years ago. Fully acknowledging the limitation of Hong Kong local market, Cinema City strived to explore Taiwan and Japanese markets through recruiting talents from the targeted markets (e.g. Sylvia Chang from Taiwan) and establishing partnership with local theaters to secure overseas distribution. In the mid-1980s, another significant challenger appeared—D&J Film Company (德寶電影公司, the brand was later changed to D&B in 1988). To enter the fierce battlefield of film production and distribution, besides doing film production, D&J took Shaw Brothers theater chain and acquired some other small theaters to form their own theater line, in order to contest with Golden Harvest’s Gala chain (嘉樂院線) and the Golden Princess theater groups (Image 2.5). D&B recruited a large group of film talents to consolidate the entertainment castle, including John Shum Kin-­ fun (岑建勳) and Sammo Hung, and gradually enlarged their film production department. By the mid-1980s, Hong Kong’s film industry had been shared by a few but profitable local major theater groups—Gala, Golden Princess and D&B. This theater-driven business model perpetuated to the 1990s. In 1988, another new theater group joined the melting pot—Newport Circuit (新 寶院線), which was derived from the Golden Princess system. In 1991, D&B was transformed into Regal Films Company (永高電影公司), hosted by Raymond Wong and an investor from Macao. Raymond then formed another new line named Mandarin in 1993. In the mid-1990s, five major theater lines occupied Hong Kong’s domestic market share: Regal, Mandarin, Golden Princess, Newport and Gala. In addition to the above companies, former left-leaning film companies, Great Wall, Feng Huang and Sun Luen were merged into a Hong Kongregistered corporation called Sil-Metropole (銀都影業) in 1983. After a decade of Cultural Revolution turmoil, the CCP-led China decided to resurrect its cultural business by continuing filming production in Hong Kong. The Sil-Metropole and another left-leaning Southern Film Company constituted a group of theaters called the “double south line” (Shuang Nan Xian 雙南線), mainly screening film productions from mainland China. For the evolution of the cinema-chain system, refer to Fig. 2.1.



Image 2.5  State Theater at North Point. Heritage State Theater 皇都戲院 at North Point, Hong Kong Island. Starting business in the 1950s, the theater once was under the Shaw Brothers theater chain and became part of the Golden Harvest chain theater in the 1970s. (Photo by the author)

A Mixture of Ecstasy and Anxiety The 1980s Hong Kong society was by and large characterized by a number of characteristics: promising prospect of upward mobility, identity superiority and identity anxiety—all were knitted with the economic skyrocketing and the lurking of sovereignty transfer. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World/Fu Gui Bi Ren 富貴逼人 series directed by Clifton Ko Chi-sum (高志森) well portrayed such set of mentality of that time: an ordinary middle-­class family dreamed to get rich, instead of through working hard, but through trying their luck in lottery. Hinted in the film title was the distorted “money-driven ecstasy” which, however, insinuated the state of mind in Hong Kong at that time—a city undergoing its economic height and a trendsetter in the East Asian region. The splendor was largely



Fig. 2.1  Composition of cinema chains in the 1990s. Note: numbers in circle refer to the number of cinemas that each major film company mobilized for the screening of its movies in that year. Re-created from: Chiu  WK and Shin KW, 2013, The Fall of Hong Kong Movies. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Institute of Asia-­ Pacific Studies. p. 23

achieved by Hong Kong’s financial market blossoming—a business in which money grows from money. Hong Kong was transformed into a financial city in the 1980s. Stock exchange and real estate markets gilded Britain’s last colony in the Far East. The skyline in Hong Kong commercial zones told the world that Hong Kong had become a global financial center after waves of economic miracles in the past decades. The prosperous economy in the 1980s Hong Kong led to radical increase of people’s family income. The enlarging middle class in the territory changed the social structure as well as the city landscape. Modern high-rise condominiums housed middle-class families who enjoyed the fruits of upward mobility. To accommodate the increasing population, Hong Kong’s urban expansion with the flourishing new towns reached the zenith in the 1980s. The Aces Go Places series by the Cinema City made a Hong Kong-style James Bond parody by portraying the local robbers, detectives and



police—witty, brave, humorous and canny. It is believed that these qualities well demonstrated the then Hong Kong value, and these were also the features that helped people achieve success in business. In the films, local characters accomplished international tasks, while at the same time, showing off stunts and high-tech, vividly showing the superiority of Hong Kong people at the global stage. In the third episode of the series—Aces Go Places III (1984), when the protagonist King Kong received the prize from the Queen, the complication of pride and sorrow was gushed as the story went on. The exhibition of economic superiority supplemented with a hint of anxiety led to another threading theme in the 1980s Hong Kong: the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984, and Hong Kong’s destiny was doomed to be handed over to the CCP-led China. The last episode of the sequel, Aces Go Places V was exactly launched in 1989, signaling the closure of this legendary film series. A pessimistic tone was presented in the film, portraying the inharmonious partnership, action failure and the seizure of the Hong Kong detectives by policemen from Beijing. Though a good ending was given, the whole story was gloomed with Hong Kong people’s identity anxiety (Sek Kei 1999b). Love, Hate, Lost Against the backdrop of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the determination of Hong Kong’s future, the late 1980s and early 1990s marked the periods showcasing the dynamic undercurrents in the Hong Kong society: its anxieties and lost in the juncture of historical change, its love and hate toward the CCP-led China. Films of ghost thrillers (especially ghost in ancient Chinese dress) had a full sprout in the 1980s. Diffusing a sensual mystery, thrill or sometimes comedy, ghost films brought to Hong Kong film industry an alternative school of moving images out of the long-existing urban action genre. Ghost in films was also interpreted as an illusion of the lost past and the unbridgeable gap between human and ghost—signifying the sentiment of “lost in history” and “lost in identity”. Tsui Hark’s A Chinese Ghost Story/ Qiannu Youhun 倩女幽魂 (1987), along with its sequels, was an outstanding example. Showcasing his expertise in mastering genre films supplemented with sci-fi elements, Tsui in the serials sophisticatedly combined romance, thrill and actions to construct a ghost story in an unidentified



Chinese dynasty, which, full of invisible souls of benevolence and evil, insinuated Hong Kong at the threshold of sovereignty handover. Yet ghost films projected a world of imaginative maze, another important genre—action films—unveiled the dark shroud of the society, excavating the blood and flesh underneath exposed on silver screen. Despite that action films marked the iconic genre of Hong Kong films, John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow/Yingxiong Bense 英雄本色 (1986) and Ringo Lam (林嶺東)’s City on Fire/Longhu Fengyun 龍虎風雲 (1987) as well as their sequels injected a fresh spring with themes of urban heroes and street gangsters. Inspired by Chang Cheh’s “new wuxia” in the early days of his career in the film industry, John Woo revived this style by replacing sword fighting with modern gun fights and deep touch of the inner side of hero’s mind—exuberance, hysteria, ecstasy and torment. From another angle, Ringo Lam sketched the cruel social reality in the life and death duel of gangsters and police. Through projecting strong visual impact from elements such as fierce gun fights, body torture, bloodshed and street fight, a sense of unfathomable crisis was revealed through extreme violence. Alongside with the burgeoning of ghost thrillers, action films and romantic melodramas insinuating or directly depicting images of mainland China and mainlanders were also popular in that age. Long Arm of the Law/Shenggang Qibing 省港旗兵 (1984) was an impressive box-office success in 1984. The film exhibited the alarming threat from mainland Chinese-organized armed robbers who sabotaged Hong Kong’s social order. The “threat” was symbolized on the silver screen through extremist style of visual impact constituted of bloodshed, gunshots and death. On the other hand, this film made an interesting contrast between the mainland Chinese robbers and Hong Kong’s Royal Police: while the former group seemed rude and violent, they exhibited great care to their families and strong brotherhood. However, the royal police were portrayed as disorganized and treacherous. In the three sequels of the Long Arm, more diverse and round characters of mainland Chinese were presented, especially in the last episode that was set against the backdrop of China’s 1989 Tiananmen massacre. In fact, the mixed depiction of mainland Chinese in the Long Arm of the Law was not alone in the 1980s. A series of Her Fatal Ways/Biaojie Ni Haoye 表姐你好嘢 (1991–1992) shaped another type of mainland Chinese characters. Though Hong Kong people were filled with fear and uncertainties, the appearance of the rude but benevolent main-



land policewoman uneased the nerves and bridged the blood-tie between China and Hong Kong (Lok Fung 2002; Ka Ming 2009; Sek Kei 1999a).

1997 Dis-illusion—Hong Kong in fin de siècle After an age of full blossom of Hong Kong film industry, in 1994, the box-office revenue of local films dropped: from HKD 1,240,173,432 in 1992 and HKD 1,146,149,208 in 1993 to HKD 973,496,699 in 1994 and even HKD 547,487,133 in 1997. The figure even dropped to HKD 345,711,713 in 1999 (Chan 2000, p. 92). The year 1993 marked the year from which the production of Hong Kong local films started to drop after a consecutive five-year increase. Having experienced the 1998 Asian financial crisis and throughout the 2000s, the situation was more or less similar, though growing number of Hong Kong-mainland China co-production films, which were also categorized as Hong Kong films,23 were added to brighten the situation. In terms of box-office revenue, throughout the 1980s and until 1997, the local box office was dominated by Hong Kong films. But since 1998, the situation had a U-turn (details in Table 2.8). In the 2000s, Hong Kong cinema box office has been significantly taken up by non-Hong Kong productions, and even among the Hong Kong films, the majority are co-production films. Under this context, voices moaning “death of Hong Kong film” tend to be shared by those in the industry, academics and public (Pang 2009; South China Morning Post 2013, Feb 27). Having had a heyday in the 1980s, Hong Kong’s decade-glory soon faced a gloomy shadow: shrinking of overseas market led to abortion of pre-paid system and investors’ lower interest in Hong Kong films, the change of Hong Kong landscape indirectly interrupted the theater-driven film economy. As more discussion on the breakdown of the theater-driven and distributor-oriented film economy will follow soon, what deserves our immediate attention is the Hong Kong film at the at the fin de siècle—at the juncture of sovereignty transfer, how Hong Kong films and filmmakers respond to the zeitgeist. 23  According to Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Association (MPIA), Hong Kong films are constituted of two categories: Hong Kong local film and co-production films. Hong Kong local film (港產片) refers to the films that are 100% produced, directed, acted by Hong Kong permanent residents or local registered entities. Co-production film is produced by at least one local registered company and involves at least 50% Hong Kong permanent residents participating in the film production. Hong Kong films should be publicly screened in Hong Kong and the film length should be no less than 60 minutes.



Table 2.8  Exhibition of Hong Kong films and Foreign Films in the 1990s and 2000s

1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017

Number of o Percentage Share of Hong Kong Films Hong Kong Film Box Screened Office

Total Number of Foreign Films Screened

Percentage Share of Foreign Film Box Office

117 119 121 126 210 234 187 153 116 93 88 145 151 126 92 97 64 55 51 53 50 51 54 56 53 42 51 59 61 53

234 351 222 384 294 273 318 337 312 374 385 298 278 257 241 176 180 184 180 181 179 217 232 220 250 268 259 273 287 277

20.89 30.01 28.44 24.57 21.18 27.48 31.57 42.13 48.12 55.89 57.96 55.17 57.33 55.9 61.23 51.84 57.71 67.48 71.83 79.07 77.73 78.18 79.39 83.23 78.37 82.31 78.42 81.89 83.89 86.27

79.11 69.99 71.56 75.43 78.82 72.52 68.43 57.87 51.88 44.11 42.04 44.83 42.67 44.1 38.77 48.16 42.29 32.52 28.17 20.93 22.27 21.82 20.61 16.77 21.63 17.69 21.58 18.11 16.11 13.73

Sources: Chan CW 2000, The structure and marketing analysis of Hong Kong film industry (香港電影工業結構及 市場分析), pp. 91–92; Today Literary Magazine 今天文學雜誌, Winter 2012, no. 99, pp. 3–4; The information of 2000–2016 is partially collated from Statistical Digest of the Services Sector, Census and Statistics, Hong Kong government; The information of 2000–2016 is partially collated from the Hong Kong Motion Picture Industry Association; Note: From 2003 onward, the definition of Hong Kong films refers to http://www.mpia.org.hk/content/about_definition.php



From Hong Kong, New Stars on World Stage In the late 1990s, former mogul film distributors—owners of chain theaters: Golden Princess and D&B officially closed their business. Golden Harvest withdrew their overseas investment and concentrated most of their businesses back in Hong Kong. The ceasing of the previous generations led to the debut of new companies which continued to produce Hong Kong signature films. Among these new companies were China Star Entertainment Group (中國星), Best of Best (BOB, 最佳拍檔), United Film Maker (UFO), Applause Pictures, Milkyway Image (銀河映像) and Media Asia Group (寰亞綜藝). Different from the previous age when film companies were mostly founded by businessmen and venture capitalists, in the late 1990s and 2000s, the rising novelty film companies were invested and managed by a large group of professional filmmakers and actors. This new group of film investors/filmmakers/actors included but limited to Wong Ching (王晶), Tsang Chi-wai (曾志偉) and Peter Chan (陳可辛). In the 2000s, more film actors of the new generation joined the force, including Andy Lau (劉德華), Gordon Lam Ka Tung (林家棟) and Louis Koo (古天樂). In the late 1990s and 2000s, the mentioned film companies continued to pave new paths for Hong Kong film industry. Breakthroughs were made in several film series which later also became Hong Kong film classics, such as Young and Dangerous/Gu Huo Zai (古惑仔) series (BOB production), Infernal Affairs/Wu Jian Dao (無間道) series (Media Asia production), both as reminiscent to all-time Hong Kong signature gangster films. Different from the previous generation filmmakers who focused on the adult audience market, the new-generation film investors/filmmakers introduced a large number of market-oriented urban melodramas and urban comedies featuring young performers, among whom some were popular song singers or television stars, in order to entice teenage audience and to expand the market base. Besides the Young and Dangerous series which depicted young street gangsters, urban romance was another popular genre, such as Needing You/Gunan Guanu 孤男寡女 (2000), Love and Diet/Shoushen Nannu 瘦身男女 (2001), Don’t Go Breaking My Heart/Danshen Nannu 單身男女 (2011), Romancing In Thin Air/Gao Haiba Zhi Lian II 高海拔之戀 II (2012) and just name a few. These urban romance films touched the nerve of modern urban yuppies through capturing the glamorous life of urban professionals while at the same time excavating the yearning for true love among those bourgeois. Johnnie To



(杜琪峰) and Wai Kar Fai (韋家輝), along with their designated creation team, have been highly applauded in producing films of this type—market-­ oriented urban romantic melodramas. The 1990s was also a prosperous period in a sense that a number of Hong Kong local film talents had their debut in the international stage and gained sincere reputation among the global film arena. Hong Kong-­ origin film talents and film productions glared in international film festivals (Wong 2007, 2011). Wong Kar-wai (王家衛) successfully drew considerable attention from European film circle by presenting film works of Wong’s artisan auteurship. John Woo’s modern martial hero genre was introduced to Hollywood and he directed a series of Hollywood productions. Martial art masters Jackie Chan and big brother Chow Yun-fat (周 潤發) also appeared in Hollywood films. Hong Kong films, including films co-produced with partners from mainland China and Taiwan, were also largely recognized by international film festivals. It is hard to deny that Hong Kong in the 1990s attracted exceptional global attention politically and culturally. History and Memory: Present and Past Other than the restructuring of the film industry, what characterized the late 1990s and early 2000s was by all means the juxtaposition of Hong Kong’s transition of sovereignty from a British colony to a special administrative region of People’s Republic of China (HKSAR). If the 1970s raised the curtain of localization and 1980s did the final touch for this process, the 1990s gave a sudden turn to Hong Kong people by bombarding grand narratives about “nation”, “identity” and “history”, which, to certain extent, were either too strange topics or had been recurring but unsolvable puzzles. Hong Kong had always been a city without a real surname. In the shadow of 1997, films and research were produced to echo the anemia, uncertainty and anxiety about nation, identity, history and destiny. The issue and puzzle of “history” and “memory” were reflected from a series of films which exhibited nostalgic sentiment through transplantation of classical cinematic elements in order to recall the “good old days”. For example, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Father!/Xin Nanxiong Nandi 新難 兄難弟 (1993) paid commemorative tribute to the classical Chung Luen production In the Face of Demolition/Wei Lou Chun Xiao 危樓春曉 (1953) which was fraught with humanistic spirit, and the Cantonese urban



comedy Intimate Partners/Nanxiong Nandi 難兄難弟 (1960) which demonstrated precious brotherhood among grassroot people (Lai 1997, pp.  90–94). Besides transplantation of old pieces of memory from old films, ghost was another useful theme that bridged the present with the past—again, the rosy yet memorable past. Stanley Kwan (關錦鵬)’s Rouge/ Yan Zhi Kou 胭脂扣 (1987) reminisced the glorious scenes of old Hong Kong from the eyes of a female ghost, who, a prostitute 50 years ago, had experienced a forbidden love with a wealthy teddy boy. Becoming a ghost after committed suicide, the heroin, after her half-century waiting, ­eventually found out her old-time lover one but a coward. The female ghost failed to retain her love in the modern Hong Kong. And the pastday glittering Hong Kong in her memory was shattered by massive urban renewal in the modern days (Lok Fung 2002, pp. 50–51). In this film, time passes, while time freezes. At the historical turning point of 1997, “time” had been a motif in Wong Kar-Wai’s film arts. “Let’s start over again” spoken by Lai Yiu-fai in Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together/Chunguang Zhaxie 春光乍泄 (1997) revealed a mythic origin of time (Chow 2004). Leaving Hong Kong to South America for searching a dream place, a homosexual couple had endless fights and breaking-up all the way to South America and the way back to Hong Kong. The loop of time had neither an end nor an original start. Does time have an origin? Does time has an end? What about history of a place? Facing 1997, the bandwagon-like discourse of Hong Kong history, full of miracles and vaudevilles, seem coming from nowhere. In Wong’s another signature film Days of Being While/A Fei Zhengzhuan 阿飛正傳 (1990), when the hero (starring Leslie Cheung) was on his way to find his biological mother, he was shot to death on train. Neither knowing whether he could really meet his mother nor even knowing where his mother was, the sudden end of his life interrupted the journey to trace one’s origin. Films in the 1990s were also filled with post-colonial implications that echoed the wave of nationalist, internationalist or Asian consciousness. Genres such as Kung Fu, martial arts, heroic themes as well as border-­ crossing productions demonstrated post-colonial articulation and practice (Yau 1997; Chu 2004; Needham 2006; Abbas 2006; Pang 2007). What’s more, queries into identity and the destiny of the city were from time to time embedded in films across a variety of genres. What epitomized this identity issue was Fruit Chan (陳果)’s Hong Kong trilogy: Made in Hong Kong/Xianggang Zhizao 香港製造 (1997), The Longest Summer/Qunian Yanhua Tebie Duo 去年煙花特別多 (1998) and



Little Cheung/Xilu Xiang 細路祥 (1999). Situated in the most grassroot Hong Kong (e.g. public housing, alleys in Yau Ma Tee district) and a set of “other spaces” (e.g. cemetery site) (Lok Fung 2002, pp.  131–138), a group of marginalized people’s lives and death were revealed through coarse lens, which further implied the identity and destiny of Hong Kong society—as a chip on the bargaining table between two governments and as an orphan with(out) a real surname stuck in the middle of grand history. In order to gain a “new” life, one has to lose his/her memory in the transient fireworks (Lok Fung 2002; Chan and Chu 2008). In Pang’s (2009) analysis, the trilogy illustrates and complicates the predicament that Hong Kong people, at the historical juncture of 1997, (re)established an identity/subjectivity. Applying “death” as an esthetic and political allegory of 1997 in filming the trilogy, in Pang’s opinion, signifies less a sentimental identity anxiety or resentment over a physical death of Hong Kong than a structural position in identity reformation. In the confrontation of a new political order, Hong Kong does not simply die and is reborn. We witness a complex process of betrayal, resistance, coercion, and irreplaceable destruction. The deaths represented in the films are neither just pessimism nor optimism to a Hong Kong identity; instead, a subjectivity is being disclosed and observed that challenges the formation of any new post-colonial Hong Kong identity. (Pang 2009, p. 22)

Industrial Eclipse: Preliminary Observation In point of fact, only a handful of film industries in the world have been able to follow Hong Kong’s example of closely integrating its film industry into the entire spectrum of prosperity achieved by its society. (Sek Kei 1999a, p. 54)

As shown in Table 2.8 and Fig. 2.2, Hong Kong film’s box-office turnover encountered a drastic change in the 1990s, so did the production scale in the industry. Seeing the rising of Hong Kong-China co-­production, voices moaning “death of Hong Kong film” resounded among the industry, academics and public (Pang 2009). Hong Kong cultural scholar Pang Laikwan once lamented, “the deterioration (and possible death) of Hong Kong cinema not only in terms of the rapid decline of the recent boxoffice receipt and therefore the number of productions, but also in regard to its local concerns and cinematic forms” (Pang 2009, p. 15).



2500 2000 1500

312 1602

1000 500 0

1221 1240


831 220






Hong Kong film box-office

Foreign film box-office

Fig. 2.2  Box-office change of Hong Kong and foreign films. Note: amount calculated in HKD million. (Source: Re-creation from “Challenges of the film industry in Hong Kong”, March 23, 2016, Research Office, Information Services Division, Legislative Council Secretariat, Hong Kong Legislative Council. Access via http:// www.legco.gov.hk/research-publications/english/essentials-1516ise13-challengesof-the-film-industry-in-hong-kong.htm)

That said, what deserves a clarification here is the fact that the “eclipse” here actually refers to the downturn of production and box-office revenue of Hong Kong local films. Regarding the quality of films, academics and film professionals have offered diverse and kaleidoscopic interpretations as discussed in earlier sections and in the Conclusion chapter later. Though neither academics nor industrial practitioners reached a consensus on the reasons behind the downturn of Hong Kong film production, a preliminary observation could be derived from existing scholarly research, industrial observation and my interviews with insider professionals. Withering of Equilibrium Since the 1970s, the independent production system of filmmaking led by Golden Harvest opened a new page in the Hong Kong film industry. In the 1980s, this mode transformed into a distribution-oriented and theater-­ driven production system, in which the distribution corporations got



involved in filmmaking and monopolized the distribution channels (Chiu and Shin 2013, pp. 4–8). Distributors invested in the production of films, which could only be shown in franchised cinemas; in another word, exhibition of products was secured. Golden Harvest, Golden Princess and D&B dominated the distribution channels with a network that constituted some “dragon-head theaters” (key theaters of a theater chain circuit) and a large number of “ferry theaters” (small-scale theaters that were affiliated with chain circuits). To note that, dating back to the era when chain theaters were prevalent in the city and theaters/distributors largely drove the whole film production and exhibition system, what dominated the territory were a large number of single-screen grand theaters. Both key and ferry theaters usually comprised a single block of building, in which a huge single screen screening one film at one time slot to serve audience numbered from a few hundreds to over one thousand. Under the theater-driven system, one theater could continuously show one hit movie for a designated period of time. As the theater owners were film financiers and distributors at the same time, they were capable of guaranteeing the film supply. In the heydays, the three main distributors: Golden Harvest, Golden Princess and D&B were able to control two-thirds of the local market, and this stable circuit guaranteed the cost-revenue balance (Chiu and Shin 2013; Chan et al. 2010). However, this seemingly invincible system got severe challenges in the mid-1990s. The establishment of the Newport stirred up the pool. The popularity of Hong Kong films in overseas markets, especially in Taiwan and Southeast Asia, was so tempting to overseas investors that the pre-sale system became one of the main financial sources for Hong Kong’s film industry. It was in such a context that Newport was founded and played a medium role to facilitate the production-­distribution invested by foreign funds, especially from Taiwan. Newport broke the original production-distribution system dominated by the trio distributors and the cost-revenue balance created by this system. The shaking and withering of the previous equilibrium created by the trio distributors, to certain extent, exerted destructive impact on the whole industry (Chung 2011, pp. 330–333; pp. 352–353). Real Estate Matters As the theater-driven economy had played a crucial role in Hong Kong film development in the 1980s, to a certain extent, Hong Kong’s real



estate development in the 1990s had changed the theater business system and thus transformed the landscape of Hong Kong film industry. In the 1990s, massive closures and destruction of traditional single-­ building cinemas were noticeable. The single-building theaters that occupied a considerable size of land were tempting to real estate developers. Against the backdrop that Hong Kong faced the radical rise of real estate development and the film business itself was undergoing structural transition as mentioned above, theater owners found that profit was more considerable if they sell the land to real estate developers than doing film business. After all, theater owners were businessmen whose aim was to maximize their business profit. Since the early 1980s, they were driven to enter the field of running cinemas and financing film production. It was the time that Hong Kong’s film industry reached its culmination as Hong Kong films were fervently craved in Taiwan and Southeast Asian markets. When the chain theater-driven system withered and overseas markets declined, businessmen naturally were diverted to other sectors. Theater buildings were then acquired by real estate developers and were later transformed into shopping malls to draw more customers and generate larger profits. Theater groups from Hollywood also entered the territory. Americanized mode of theaters such as AMC started to acquire increasing market share, with multiple screens, comfortable seats, advanced stereo-audio facilities and more film choices (Chiu and Shin 2013, pp. 21–26; Chung 2011, pp. 378–383). Hong Kong’s first Americanized multi-screen theater was launched at Shatin New Town Plaza in 1985, marking a new era in the city (Image 2.6). Piracy Enters the Market Another reason postulated by a variety of industrial staffs and scholars was the massive piracy which largely destroyed the production-distribution-­ reproduction circuit and decreased the box-office revenue (Chiu and Shin 2013; Chan et al. 2010; Pang 2006; MPIA 2012). On the one hand, the piracy industry which was paralleled with the technological development (e.g. recording and home screening devices) greatly harmed the film revenue. The popularity of video rental stores, to a certain extent, replaced the traditional film distribution channel. On the other hand, the piracy“facilitated” Hong Kong films reached to a wider market which was mainly the grassroot audience. Admittedly, not all disk productions were pirated productions. As technologies advanced in the late 1980s, LD, VCD and



Image 2.6  State Theater  in the 1990s. The cinema is very popular in Hong Kong with a wide variety of Chinese films with English subtitles constantly on show as well as the big-budget Western movies. This 1993 picture showed a typical single-block grand theater. (Courtesy to Special Collections, The University of Hong Kong Libraries)

DVD formats of film distribution gradually grasped the market share, considerably challenging the traditional distribution mechanism. The popularity of film disk rental stores facilitated some traditional film production companies also joining forces to gain more profits from this emerging market (Chung 2011, pp. 383–388).



Insights from Insiders Broadway Circuit (百老匯院線) is a Hong Kong local cultural group that runs theaters and film production. Established in the 1950s, Broadway has gone through the era of single-screen grand theater to nowadays ­multi-­screen mode (also called mini-theater). Today’s Broadway Circuit, operated by the Edko Films Ltd (安樂電影), has developed into the largest cinema circuit in Hong Kong. Through conducting interviews with the managerial staffs, we could take a further look into the dynamics of Hong Kong film industry development (Images 2.6, 2.7 and 2.8). Date: 24 January 2017 Venue: Office of the EDKO Films Ltd, Admiralty, Hong Kong Island K: Klavier T: Tessa Lau (CEO of Broadway Circuit) G: Gary Mak (Manager of Broadway Cinematheque, an art film hub under the Broadway Circuit) K: How did the Broadway Circuit go through the industrial transition from single-screen to multi-screen? T: I joined Broadway in the 1980s. At that time, there were around five cinema houses operated by our company, in Mong Kok, Cheung Sha Wan and Korn Hill. In that era, chain theater system still dominated the industry. The owners of the cinema chain also produced films, which would be screened in their designated cinema houses. The cinema houses in that time were still in grand-cinema scale that only one screen and one house were in service. Cinema houses only showed one film at one time slot, the cinema chains also guaranteed sufficient time slots for the films produced by themselves. That said, in the 1990s multi-screen cinemas started to thrive. It meant that more was demanded of films as more than one film were shown in one time slot. As you know a lot of production companies which were supported by Taiwan capitalists faded out in the 1990s. These factors contributed to the demise of chain theater system. Broadway Circuit exactly experienced such drastic transition. We started from the single-screen cinema and soon transferred into multi-house cinema along with significant renovation. We s­ ignificantly improved our screening equipment and interior facilities. In terms of film programming, we had both western and Chinese films. K: As Broadway Mong Kok is the very first cinema house of the company, would you introduce more about its transformation especially



situated in the drastic industrial transitional period you described above? T: The cinema used to have three houses with 1300 seats altogether. In 2004, the cinema was renovated into five houses but providing only around 895 seats. Actually we didn’t change the size of the houses but widen the space between seats to make a more comfortable viewing environment. It was since 2003 that we opened the IFC (International Financial Center) Palace cinema. It was a landmark in Hong Kong film industry because we were the first one setting the leg-­length 1.2 meter-wide. The reason is that when later comers get in the rows, you don’t need to stand up to free the space. When you are enjoying the films which are usually more than one hour’s long, wider leg-length allows you to strength better. This breakthrough was well received among audience. Since then, we strongly realized that we have to improve our facilities to appeal larger crowds by selling an “enjoyable viewing experience”, as you know in the old days audience were allowed to smoke in cinema houses and children ran around (Images 2.7, 2.8, and 2.9).

Image 2.7  Mini-theater of BC. Mini-theater houses were furnished with comfortable seats and advanced audio-visual equipment. (Courtesy of Broadway Cinema circuit)



Image 2.8  Leisure space BC. By adding leisure space in the theater, Broadway refresh cinema-going experience. (Courtesy of Broadway Cinema Circuit)

In 2004, we took another bold experiment on our Broadway Mong Kok cinema by further widening the space, which means 40–50% seats were pulled out. We hoped to see if the more comfortable viewing space would win back our audience to compensate the lost seats. Results showed that we succeeded. Though the ticket price was raised accordingly, we always guarantee the quality. K: Do you think the transformation of the industry, such as the demolishing of single-block cinema house, the decrease of seats and decrease of screens lead to the ebbs of Hong Kong film culture? G: First of all, my observation is that cinema houses become more commercial oriented than community oriented. We used to have cinema houses quite near residential communities, such as the current Broadway Cinematheque (BC), so that families and senior citizens have larger motivation to pay a visit. But now most of the cinema houses are in commercial zones, inside shopping complex or business buildings, so that the cost of movie going escalates. Given to this, the change of the industry negatively affect the film culture. However,



Image 2.9  First Art House BC.  The first art house cinema in Hong Kong: Broadway Cinematheque, opened in 1996 at Yau Ma Tei. (Courtesy of Broadway Cinema Circuit)

more cinema houses do not necessarily lead to the heightening of film culture. Film quality does. Do we have a high-quality film culture education in tertiary institutions? Do people care about the artistic value in films? We had experienced a so-called golden age, fraught with replicated themes and techniques. A few hundred films do not mean a high film culture of a city. In the recent decade, given that we witness a significant declination of film production quantity, we do see high-quality works on screen, very inspiring. If we fail to excel in quality, more houses only lead to the triumph of western films. Moreover, according to interview with Broadway Cinema Circuit, Tessa Lau and Gary Mak mentioned that the insufficiency of film education was also neglected by crucial factors that caused the downturn. Without a full-fledged film education system, the industry will be short of professionals, talented minds and competent technicians to sustain and



innovate the production and distribution of films. Echoing the notions from Lau and Mak’s, Chan, Fung & Ng (2010, pp. 86–88) illustrated the significant gap of film professional supply to the industry by presenting the figures of film training college graduates. It is found that, in the downturn period of Hong Kong films, the late 1990s and the early 2000s, there were no more than 100 graduates every year. Short of hands and talents, Hong Kong’s film industry faced grave crisis to support local production, not to mention the overseas markets. Ceasing Overseas Markets As mentioned earlier, the huge popularity of Hong Kong films in the Taiwan market drew Taiwanese investors who established production companies in Hong Kong or invested in film productions via the long-­ existing pre-sale system. On the one hand, this trend considerably facilitated production of a large quantity of films during the 1980s and early 1990s. On the other hand, the fanatic competition among these companies, such as rather financing huge cost on superstar casting than investing on content creation, led to a vicious cycle that hindered genre and topical diversity in Hong Kong film productions. What will be elaborated in Chap. 3 is a fact that, in a long period, Taiwan’s film market was dominated by Hong Kong-made films, especially those sensational-oriented genres such as action and erotic. As a result, the vicious loop caused by floods of venture capital—hot-money and subsequent massive production of cliché films led to a dead end. In the early 1990s, Taiwan even vested restriction on Hong Kong film production (Liang 1997, p. 154; Chung 2011, p. 361) and decreased investment, causing disastrous hit on the industry. In the years to come, the national film industry in Taiwan, once an indispensable overseas market to Hong Kong films, gradually thrived, and in 2008, the nation-wide hit film Cape No.7/Haijiao Qihao 海角七號 (2008) overturned Hong Kong film’s dominance in Taiwan market. Moreover, the declination of financial sources to Hong Kong film production was even worsened due to the change of overseas markets. Political and nationalistic factors (e.g. Malay ethnic supremacy in Malaysia) caused severe shrinking of markets, especially in Southeast Asian countries (Table 2.9). These countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, used to be among the primary overseas markets for Hong Kong films (Chan and Leung 1997, p.  139). For example, Singapore and Malaysia



Table 2.9  Changes of revenue from overseas markets Year

Hong Kong Film Revenues from Overseas Market (HKD, million)

Percentage Change over Preceding Year

1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000

1213 1404 1491 1860 1699 1435 1164 435 329 252 NA NA

15.7 6.2 24.7 −8.7 −15.5 −18.9 −62.6 −24.4 −23.4 NA NA

Source: 2001 Edition Statistical Digest of the Services Sector, Census and Statistics Department, The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Retrieved from https://www.statistics.gov. hk/pub/B10800072001AN01B0200.pdf Note: Revenues include royalties from video/laser/TV/hotel/theatrical rights

governments in the 1990s actively encouraged their own national film industries, especially in terms of providing substantial support to non-­ Sinophone culture. The withdraw of overseas markets is at the same time attributed to the rising of entertainment industries in Hong Kong’s neighboring regions, namely the CCP-led China and South Korea. Once a major destination receiving Hong Kong popular culture impact, mainland China has witnessed the bombarding rise of its own popular cultural industry especially following China’s entry in World Trade Organization (WTO). What will be discussed soon is that the market opening resulted from the WTO entry not only facilitated mainland China’s entertainment business liberation and expansion but also attracted a large number of Hong Kong cultural workers to go north. As an industrial insider commented, “as many localized large-scale entertainment companies were established on the mainland, and many previous collaborators with Hong Kong now became competitors” (Leung et al. 2017, p. 31). Out of the Sinophone circle, the rise of South Korean pop—K-pop— has rolled the whole East Asia since the 2000s. The powerful Korean Wave encompasses film, popular songs and television dramas, which have taken



considerable market share across the region, creating Korea mania among youngsters (Chua and Iwabuchi 2008). Therefore, the upsurge of two neighboring entertainment giants have doubtlessly threatened and consumed the regional, even global, market share Hong Kong once enjoyed.

CEPA and the Future of Hong Kong Film Widely known, co-production is never new to Hong Kong film industry, as Hong Kong has always been a meeting place. Since the birth of Hong Kong films, convergence of financial resources and human resources takes place in this once colony. They have nurtured 100-year history of Hong Kong films. One of the characteristics of Hong Kong filmmakers is their resilience which enables them to cater a variety of markets and cultural flavors, while situated in the ever-changing geo-political status of the city. Thus, establishing partnership and operating co-production films with external financiers and technicians from different countries has been one of the common practices in the industry. But what makes the co-production, particularly co-productions by Hong Kong and mainland Chinese partners (hereafter “co-production”), gain such intense attention after 2003? Besides the significant change occurred in the industry in terms of the number of co-productions and reallocation of film staffs, what worries people most  is the considerable ideological gap between Hong Kong and mainland China. And such intangible gap has vested restrictions in film production and gradually changed the media-landscape (Yau 2015a). CEPA Lands in Hong Kong Immersed in the seemingly irreversible decline in the Hong Kong film industry in terms of production numbers and box-office revenue (Table 2.8 and Fig. 2.2), the 2003 Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was signed between Hong Kong and mainland China, leading to a new epoch for this city in the post-handover and post-SARS era.24 Under this 24  The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) hit Asia in 2003 and Hong Kong was one of the quarantined areas issued by the World Health Organization. The SARS hit caused devastating impact on Hong Kong, especially the consumption spending, tourism and re-exportation, which are in fact essential sectors of Hong Kong’s economy. See Alan Siu and Richard Wong 2004, Economic Impact of SARS: The case of Hong Kong. Asian Economic Papers, 3(1), pp. 62–83. Retrieved from https://hub.hku.hk/bitstream/10722/88855/1/content.



agreement, Hong Kong films that involve mainland companies and performers are regarded as mainland domestic production. Before that, annual quota of film importation (20 in 2003 and 34 in 2018) was applied to nondomestic films, among which Hong Kong films had to compete with films from Hollywood and many others. As a result of CEPA, a lot more Hong Kong-made films could enjoy the privileges as other Chinese domestic films, especially the huge market and larger profit margin compared to foreign films could gain.25 In the following years after CEPA was first introduced in 2003, more flexibility has been granted to Hong Kong filmmakers such as the freedom to process post-effect editing and publishing outside China, screening of Cantonese version in China provided that permission is gained from China and subtitles are supplied. Additionally, with permission from the related official department—formerly SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film and Television) and now SART (State Administration of Radio and Television),26 Hong Kong locally made films (non-co-production) could also enjoy more access to the Chinese market than other foreign films. Hong Kong film investors were also granted larger room to set up companies and build theaters in China.27 In recent years, a number of eminent directors from Hong Kong are in charge of making Chinese “main-melody” films (zhu xuan lv dian ying 主 旋律電影). Hong Kong’s eminent New Wave director, expert of blending action genre with sci-fi, Tsui Hark re-created Chinese Cultural Revolution “model drama” The Taking of Tiger Mountain/Zhiqu Weihushan 智取威 虎山 (2014) by maneuvering his filmic expertise. Lam Chiu-yin Dante (林 超賢), who is known for mastering gangster films, directed Operation Mekong/Meigong Xingdong 湄公行動 (2016) and Operation Red pdf; Also see Hong Kong Tourism Board, 2004, The Year in Review 2003–2004. Retrieved from https://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/about-hktb/images/2003-2004-05.pdf. 25  As a Chinese domestic film, the film producer could enjoy around 40% share of the income and the cinema enjoys around 50%. But the producer of a foreign film only gets 13%–25%. 26  In 2018, under the decision of the 13th session National People’s Congress, the SARFT is restructured to State Administration of Radio and Television (SART). Since then, film and publication domains are separated from the former SARFT and will be under direct control of the department of censorship and propaganda (zhong xuan bu 中宣部). The propaganda unit will be responsible in managing publication and distribution of film productions. 27  Liberalization Measures under CEPA by Cinema Theatre Services, Chinese Language Motion Pictures and Motion Pictures Jointly Produced, Motion Picture Distribution Services, the Hong Kong Trade and Industry Department, access via https://www.tid.gov. hk/english/cepa/tradeservices/av_cinema_picture_lib.html.



Sea/Honghai Xingdong 紅海行動 (2018). Both of them were tribute to Chinese military overseas actions. Noteworthy that, the above three films were all box-office triumphs in China. Lau Wai-keung Andrew (劉偉強), another gangster film expert, directed The Founding of an Army/Jianjun Daye 建軍大業 (2017), a landmark of the 90th anniversary of the CCP army. That said, the rising of co-production films was never free from controversies or doubts. On the one hand, the opening of a huge market gilded a silver lining in Hong Kong’s film industry at a crucial era. On the other hand, as co-production gradually took over the local market, grave concerns on the fading of “Hong Kong taste” emerged. Hong Kong filmmakers had been driven by mainland market and thus produced films that cater the mainland Chinese cultural taste and obey the CCP cultural regulations. This phenomenon has buttressed the persistent “Hong Kong film has died” lamentation. Amid the fervent criticism on the negative influence brought by co-­ production, scholars and critics recently had questioned the causality between co-production and the “Hong Kong taste”. Moreover, some cast doubts on whether the Hong Kong film industry is really dying as widely claimed. Instead, commentaries pinpoint that Hong Kong films and a large group of devoted film talents are actually experimenting novelty and alternative directions, which, though full of trials and errors, are echoing the zeitgeist. Never Cross the Redline The skyrocketing number of cinemas, screens, moviegoers and film production in China, accompanied by the implementation of CEPA, have unveiled a “land of milk and honey” to many filmmakers, including a group of renowned Hong Kong directors such as Peter Chan 陳可辛, Tsui Hark, Andrew Lau and Dante Lam. Similar to what is called a “brain drain”, a current of northbound gold mining swept Hong Kong with increasing number of co-productions produced in newly built studios in mainland China. Hong Kong’s local talents gradually shifted their work base to mainland China (Chung 2012; Chan 2012b; Tan and Zhang 2013; Zhang 2011). To play safe in the mainland Chinese market, Hong Kong filmmakers meticulously chose themes for films under co-production. In order to get approval from the mainland film authorities and to take larger market



share, they tended to make films that complied with the ideological requirement by putting aside sensitive topics, such as police, gangster and ghost, which had exactly made the signature of Hong Kong films (Chan 2012a; Chung 2011, pp.  437–438). That is to say, catering the north means diminish of creativity especially to a large group of Hong Kong filmmakers who were known for their flexibility, fluidity and novelty (Chung 2012; Shen 2012). Hence, co-production films are only exhibiting a limited range of genres such as epic historical films, romantic melodramas and action films that are usually situated in a politically ambiguous background. In many cases, splendid blockbusters were employed to make good use of the mainland investment and to appeal to the widest audience base through spine-tingling visual-audio appeal, while little hint of “Hong Kong taste” could be traced from film contents, except for names in the production crew and casting. Throughout the years, a considerable proportion of co-­ production films are of this category to finely secure box-office income: Fearless/Huo Yuanjia 霍元甲 (2006), Red Cliff/Chibi 赤壁 (2008) and Confucius/Kongzi 孔子 (2010), to name a few. As a consequence, soon  after few years of the “honey-moon” period, co-production exhausted  the impactful momentum and was under serious criticism of replication of genres and disappearance of auteurship (Chung 2012; Shen 2012; Ho 2012). Content tailoring becomes another strategy for Hong Kong filmmakers to secure exhibition permission in the mainland market. Even before the implementation of CEPA, Hong Kong filmmakers had already adopted such tactics. When the award-winning picture Infernal Affairs/Wu Jian Dao 無間道 (2002) was screened in China, the ending scene was different from the original version shown in Hong Kong. In China, Andy Lau, the disguised policeman who was actually a gangster member, was finally put behind bars—a showcase of ultimate legal justice. However, in the Hong Kong version, this role was successfully evaded from being arrested. However, in many other cases, instead of producing two different versions for Hong Kong and China, directors have self-censorship when they penned the story. Since 2008, multiple versions of one film are forbidden by the Chinese authorities. This new policy causes filmmakers who hope to enter the Chinese market intentionally avoid drafting plots that would violate the Chinese censorship criteria (e.g. corruption, injustice of police, excessive violence) and cease to portray themes that are unacceptable to



Chinese policy and culture (e.g. homosexual, Christianity).28 Overheard/ Qieting Fengyun 竊聽風雲 (2009), Ip Man/Ye Wen 葉問 (2008), Drug War/Du Zhan 毒戰 (2013) and many others were amended according the Chinese official and untold criteria. Election/Hei She Hui 黑社會 (2005) and Shinjuku Incident/Xinsu Shijian 新宿事件 (2009) failed to get permit to show in China due to excessive violence and portrayal of unhealthy subjects (e.g. gangsters) (Chan 2017). Different from the environment in Hong Kong, mainland China strives to create a “healthy” and “positive” world for the mass audience and thus a wide range of contents such as crimes, superstition, sex and religion, to name a few, will be under meticulous censor. While film contents could be adjusted according to the published criteria issued by official departments, non-filmic factors are far more ambiguous. An untold rule of censoring film practitioners from entering the Chinese market has been slowly unveiled since 2014. The 2014 pro-­ democracy Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong touched the nerve of Chinese government.29 A number of artists who publicly expressed their support to the movement are blacklisted in China. Deanie Yip, who showed up at the protest site and sang the protest theme song, was included in the list. She played a supporting role in prominent New Wave director Ann Hui’s war film Our Time Will Come/Mingyue Jishiyou 明月 幾時有 (2017). Despite that the film was a co-production in which BONA (博納影業), a Chinese film tycoon, was one of the most prominent investors, Deanie Yip’s name was now shown on the promotional materials circulated in China. Therefore, audience and film critics, both mainland Chinese and Hong Kong locals, cast doubts on the sustainability and even the future existence of “Hong Kong film” (Chong 2012, pp.  12–16). From Table 2.10, we can see that from 2004 to 2016, 379 CEPA films have been produced, which means an average of 29 films per year. However, only 301 local films have been produced in this period, with an average 28  Criteria and process of film censor, refer to State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China. June 22, 2006, http://www. chinasarft.gov.cn/art/2006/6/22/art_1583_26305.html. 29  A 79-day occupation of Hong Kong’s three business zones in order to protest against Chinese government’s framework on the territory’s Chief Executive election and to demand a genuine universal suffrage.



Table 2.10  Number of Hong Kong films after CEPA (including Hong Kong films and co-production films) Year

Total Hong Kong Local Films

Co-production Films

2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015

60 48 47 48 53 51 54 56 52 43 52 59

32 20 23 23 29 29 30 37 35 26 29 32

28 28 24 25 24 22 24 19 17 17 23 23

Percentage of Co-production Films 53% 42% 49% 48% 55% 57% 56% 66% 67% 60% 56% 54%

Data collected from: 1. Hong Kong Filmography (1914–2010), Hong Kong Film Archive; 2. Motion Pictures Industry Association (MPIA); 3. Create Hong Kong, Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region 4. Shen D, 2014, The writing of “local” in nostalgic post-CEPA Hong Kong films (後CEPA 時期香港電影 懷舊想像中的「本土」身份書寫), M.Phil. Thesis, p. 5. access via http://commons.ln.edu.hk/cs_etd/23

of 23 films per year. From the statistics, every year, co-production films have dominated the annual release of Hong Kong films and box-office performance of co-­production triumphs over local productions. By this end, it seems plausible that it is a one-way journey once you step onto the CEPA flagship, as the mainland market has made a hegemony that forces filmmakers to choose between China and the rest (Szeto and Chen 2012). Post-CEPA Local Applause From another perspective, prominent Hong Kong scholar Chu Yiu Wai questioned the commonly said binary opposition on co-production and local production. “While some local-oriented films may be good, bigbudget mainstream (co-)productions aiming at larger audiences are not necessarily bad. The co-production (bad) vs. local production (good)



binary is over-simplified if we have a more nuanced understanding of the revival of Hong Kong cinema” (Chu 2015, p. 113). Facing the opportunities and dilemmas brought by CEPA and co-­production trend, “where will Hong Kong film go” becomes a recurring issue (as an echo to Hong Kong people’s fluctuating identity). Other than going north, what can be the alternative? In the post-CEPA era, despite intensive criticism, a number of well-­ received co-productions were released: Echoes of the Rainbow/Suiyue Shentou 歲月神偷 (2010) won the crystal bear award in the Berlin Film Festival and achieved over HKD 20 million local box office; Gallants/Da Lei Tai 打擂台 (2010) and A Simple Life/Tao Jie 桃姐 (2011) were granted the Best Film Award in the Hong Kong Film Awards, respectively. Taking these two acclaimed films as examples, in fact, “Hong Kong taste” is still attractive to filmmakers even in co-productions. It is argued that a new form of nostalgia was stimulated which differentiates the nostalgia sentiments suturing the identity crisis and the pre-handover fear (Lee 2009; Szeto and Chen 2012; Long Tin 2014; Chu 2015). The new form of “neo-nostalgia” projects a flow of youthful energy, to treasure the history (e.g. the Kung Fu in the 2010 Gallant, the coffin home in the 2010 Merry-Go-Round/Dongfeng Po 東風破) and to look forward (e.g. the young but weak real estate sales who joined the Kung Fu school and absorb the essence of Kung Fu in the 2010 Gallant). Among these popular Hong Kong films, though produced under the umbrella of co-production, the Gallant received exceptional recognition by not only exhibiting scenes reminiscent of Shaw Brothers’ classics Kung Fu films but also implying the social reality of Hong Kong. Scholars suggested a “SAR New Wave” or “new Hong Kong cinema” to concretize a number of high-quality locally focused films in the post-­ CEPA era and to advance Hong Kong film transformation in this new epoch (Chu 2015; Chu 2013; Szeto and Chen 2012). Some others termed the emerging trend as Hong Kong’s “crisis cinema” situated in the hidden currents of the societal change in terms of (post/de) colonialism and identity fluctuation (Yau 2015b). The SAR New Wave was followed by a new generation of directors embracing serious local critical attention after the 1997 handover, are quite aware of the gloomy situation in the current industry and with a more Sinophone intra/inter-local scope rather than the previous Hong Kong chauvinist and xenophobic mentality (Szeto and Chen 2012, p. 122).



Local productions quietly expand to a broader spectrum after 2008  in the wake of escalating Hong Kong-centered identification among local population indicated in the continuous city-wide survey, while people’s Chinese identification keeps dropping.30 In 2014, a prodemocratic Occupy Central (aka Umbrella Movement) hit the city and drew global media spotlights with a 79-day protest, occupying several main avenues in commercial districts.31 The drastic changing social conditions gave birth to a series of small-scale but well-received local films, projecting subtle local care, robust voice of protest and local history re-appreciation. The Two Thumbs Up/Chongfeng Che 衝鋒車 (2015), which was full of Umbrella Movement allusions, enriched the landscape of co-production by rejuvenating cine-scape of Hong Kong-made films. Little Big Master/Wuge Xiaohai de Xiaozhang 五個小孩的校長 (2015), which was ranked first at the box-office income among all Hong Kong films and ranked tenth among all films screened in the year 2015, was an adaptation of a true story and a query into Hong Kong’s education. Weeds on Fire/Dian Wu Bu 點五步 (2016) re-discovered a hidden history in Hong Kong in the 1980s—a local youth baseball team won a world championship. In 2016, a local collectively produced film, Ten Year/Shi Nian 十年 (2015) was granted the best film award in the 35th Hong Kong Film Awards. Full of anxieties of Hong Kong’s future and outrage toward the government, the film Ten Years, directed by five new-generation directors, was banned by mainland China and was even boycotted in  local mainstream theater chains. Producers had to sought to community resources such as holding free-of-charge screening exhibition outdoors or at community theater halls. Despite all these obstacles, the Hong Kong film festival’s best film award vindicated the spirit of time conveyed by this film, and enthusiastic support from Hong Kong people proved the significance of the film as a cultural vehicle and outlet of people’s voice.

30  See Public Opinion Programme, The University of Hong Kong https://www.hkupop. hku.hk/chinese/popexpress/ethnic/eidentity/poll/eid_poll_chart.html. 31  Expressing anger toward the conservative Chief Executive election framework promulgated by China’s People’s Congress Standing Committee, led by a number of movement organizations, millions of Hong Kong people took to the street and occupied main avenues with camps for 79 days. For details, see South China Morning Post “Occupy Central” theme, via http://www.scmp.com/topics/occupy-central.



Concluding Remarks The 2013 co-production film, The Grandmaster/Yidai Zongshi 一代宗師 is introduced to close the chapter. As commented by late film researcher Wong Ai-ling that (Wong 2012) the director of this film, Wong Kar-Wai demonstrated how to make the best use of cinematic and language elements to create an artwork of excellence: the literature foundation from mainland script writers, the organic complementary among actors from north and south and the chimera of musical genres which became the soundtrack. Starring Ip Man, a prominent Kung Fu master who settled down in Hong Kong during the turbulence in mainland, this film was not only about the life story of Ip Man but also mirrored the stories of both thousands of Hong Kong residents and the city itself. A meeting place for people from diverse backgrounds, capitalist, bourgeois and ordinaries, Hong Kong shelters those in need and facilitates those who innovate. The historical contingency that granted ambiguity and liberty to Hong Kong accomplished countless breathtaking stories like the one by Ip Man. It is also under Hong Kong’s particular political-­ socio context that the film industry, though facing a small-sized local market, for over a century has explored wide-sprawling overseas markets and has fermented a field that is equally diverse, vigorous and outstanding as the city itself. The history of Hong Kong film development, industrial and content wise, with its revelation of the local society, has unfolded a centennial history of hybridity in-the-making. Among this process, co-production, in a wider definition than the CEPA category, has always been one of the most commonly used tactics for Hong Kong filmmakers and investors to enlarge the market size and increase the profit margin, given the local small-sized market which is geographically confounded. From the earliest days of film technology development, Hong Kong intellectuals built connections with foreign capitalists and made Hong Kong’s first feature film. Hong Kong was also among the earliest group of Asian cities that received and developed film technology and film business. Before and after the WWII, financiers and talents from regions out of Hong Kong continuously made Hong Kong’s film industry thrive and multiply. We recall the contributions made by Joseph Chiu from San Francisco, Run Run Shaw and Loke Wan Tho from Southeast Asia, Cantonese-American Bruce Lee and a lot of intellectuals traveling between mainland Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. What makes the story more intriguing was



the fact that the people mentioned above were “global citizens” themselves, running business and taking cultural exchange in a border-crossing manner that, in other words, echoed the city character of Hong Kong. In the heyday of the 1980s and 1990s, capitals and collaborations from mainland China and Taiwan as well as the market momentum in East Asian countries epitomized the so-called golden age of Hong Kong films. The volume of film production revealed the popularity of Hong Kong films in the region, and the velocity in action films, the stunts in urban thrills and the melancholy anxiety in urban melodramas synchronized with the pulse of Hong Kong and East Asia immersed in economic ups and downs. It was also the period that films and film talents marked with Hong Kong signature stepped onto the international stage with a blaze of glare. Yet controversies have been exerted on Hong Kong films in the millennium following the implementation of CEPA, and acclaimed masterpieces, such as A Simple Life and The Grandmaster, have glimmered the film world locally and globally. It is difficult to deny that Hong Kong’s film industry has experienced historical turns, prosperity and adversity, along with the Hong Kong society. Once a world-class film production center and an intriguing cultural hub that embraced multiple political-ideological forces, Hong Kong’s film industry, under the drastically changing domestic and regional situations, has seemingly lost its previous advantages. The privileges once enjoyed by the industry to a large extent, however, were attributed to Hong Kong government’s laissez-faire mode of governance. It is due to the relatively more liberal, flexible and even chaotic political atmosphere in Hong Kong that intellectuals and capitalists from neighboring regions gathered in this tiny place. Though the colonial government at some points of time vested restrictions on the film industry, the obstacles had little influence on Hong Kong becoming a Hollywood in the East. Government’s restriction could be found in cases such as in the 1930s, film pioneers the Lai brothers failed to get permission to build its studio in Hong Kong due to their adherence to Sun Yat-sen, and in the 1970s New Wave director Tang Shu Shuen’s China Behind was declined for exhibition due to the Cold War context. It is not until the post-handover era that the HKSAR government started inaugurating film-related departments to actively promote the industry and cultivate new generation of professionals (details see Chap. 8). Under this context, the signing of CEPA, for better or worse, could be regarded



one another industrial milestone to the film industry driven by the government. In ebbs and flows, in addition to a series of top-down policy support, Hong Kong filmmakers have never ceased to find new paths and Hong Kong audience never stop searching for joy and sorrow in theater and from silver screen. Heading north to mainland China or exploring the rest of the world is by no means a mutually exclusive binary. What has epitomized and shall be a hinge to Hong Kong films is by no means the location, but the hallmark called “hybridity”—a signature of the city and the film industry being the meeting place of Sinophone creation, East Asian cultural axis and global talents.

Discussion Questions

1. There is no other city in the world that creates its own city-titled film genre, except Hong Kong. Parallel to the globally recognized French Films, German Films and to many others, Hong Kong films stand out in world cinema. Once one of the world’s most productive film-producing center, Hong Kong is crowned “Hollywood in the East”. What do you think are the most important factors that craft the brand “Hong Kong film”? 2. CEPA, on the one hand, opens a vast mainland Chinese market to Hong Kong filmmakers. On the other hand, criticism shows that political censorship from mainland China hurdles filmic creativity that has characterized Hong Kong cinema for decades. How to critically evaluate this dilemma? 3. For a long period of time, Hong Kong film industry self-sustains its prosperous business without much government interference or support. However, since 1997, the production of Hong Kong film drastically declined. In the 2000s, the Hong Kong government initiate funding source to finance small-medium production. How to view the role played by the government in creative industry such as film production?



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Wong, HYC 2011, Film festivals: Culture, people, and power on the global screen, Rutgers University Press, New Jersey. Wong, HYC 2007, ‘Distant screens: film festivals and the global projection of Hong Kong cinema’, in G Marchetti & SK Tan (Eds.). Hong Kong film, Hollywood and the new global cinema: No film is an island, pp.  177–192, Routledge, London and New York. Yeh, EYY 2018, ‘Translating Yingxi: Chinese film genealogy and early cinema in Hong Kong’, in EYY Yeh (ed), Kaleidoscope histories: Early film culture in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Republic China, pp. 19–50, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. Yu, MW 1997a, History of Hong Kong Film (vol. two)—The ninety-thirties (香港電 影史話-­卷二 – 三十年代), Sub-culture Publisher, Hong Kong. Yu, MW 1997b, History of Hong Kong Film (vol. three)—The ninety-forties (香港 電影史話-­卷三 – 四十年代), Sub-culture Publisher, Hong Kong. Yu, MW 1997c, History of Hong Kong Film (vol. four I)—The ninety-fifties (香港 電影史話-­卷五 – 五十年代上), Sub-culture Publisher, Hong Kong. Yu, MW 1997d, History of Hong Kong Film (vol. four II)—The ninety-fifties (香港 電影史話-­卷五 – 五十年代下), Sub-culture Publisher, Hong Kong. Yung, SS 2003, ‘The Joy of youth, made in Hong Kong: Patricia Lam Fung and Shaws’ cantonese films’, in AL Wong (ed) The Shaw Screen: A Preliminary Study, pp. 183–186 and pp. 189–192, Hong Kong Film Archive, Hong Kong. Yau, CME 1997, ‘Ecology and late colonial Hong Kong cinema: Imaginations in time”, in The 21st Hong Kong International Film Festival—Fifty Years of Electric Shadows (光影繽紛五十年), pp.  100–106, Hong Kong Urban Council, Hong Kong. Yau, ECM 2015a, ‘Watchful partners, hidden currents—Hong Kong cinema moving into the mainland of China’, in EMK Cheung, G Marchetti & ECM Yau (Eds.), A companion to Hong Kong cinema, pp. 17–50, Wiley Blackwell, UK. Yau, ECM 2015b, ‘The urban maze: Crisis and topography in Hong Kong cinema’, in EMK Cheung, G Marchetti & ECM Yau (Eds.), A companion to Hong Kong cinema, pp. 51–70, Wiley Blackwell, UK. Zhang, XQ 2011, ‘The impact of Hong Kong film on mainland China in the wave  of co-production (合拍大潮下香港電影對內地電影的影響)’, Today’s Massmedia 今傳媒, 2011, issue 5, pp. 69–70. Zhou, CR & Li, YZ 2004, ‘Certain Facts and Evaluation of Lai Man-wai: Corrections and Challenges (黎民偉的若干經歷和評價  – 勘誤與質疑)’, The Twenty-First Century Review, Issue 82, pp. 127–136.


Worlding Hong Kong Film

Chapter Overview In those years (pre-WWII and the 1950s–1960s), cultural professionals and intellectuals frequently commuted between Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou. There was no border. They absorbed inspirations from Shanghai and introduced to Hong Kong’s counterparts. They travelled from Shanghai to Paris, via Hong Kong where performances or intellectual sharing would be hosted. —Ng Chun Hung1

Hong Kong, a meeting place and a melting pot of different cultures, and a hub and anchor of what nowadays academia called Sinophone culture. The culture from the geographically confounded mainland China, more specifically, the central-plain culture, was produced in and exported to overseas countries from Hong Kong during periods of historical contingency. What it fumbles, engenders and validates, ultimately, is the heteroglossia of what scholars call the Sinophone: “a network of places of cultural production outside China and on the margins of China and Chineseness, where a historical process of heterogenizing and localizing of continental Chinese culture has been taking place for several centuries” (Shih 2007, p. 4). 1  Refer to “Pioneer of drama film—Lo Dun” in program Re-discover Cantonese film (粵語 長片重出江湖), hosted by Prof. Ng Chun Hung, a podcast program produced by RTHK. Access via http://www.rthk.hk/radio/radio1/programme/cantonesefilm.

© The Author(s) 2020 K. J. Wang, Hong Kong Popular Culture, Hong Kong Studies Reader Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8817-0_3




One of the essential parts of this chapter is discussion on the relationship between Hong Kong films and the various forms of “China/ Chinese”. As discussed in the introductory chapter, the politically and culturally overloaded “China” in this book is narrowed down to a geographical reference. On the one hand, “China” signifies the ambiguous territory from which the Sinitic population—the “Chinese/huaren/ tangren” is regarded originated. On the other hand, and more importantly, what we weigh more is how the ambiguous “China” has been interpreted, presented and represented in Hong Kong moving images and among film practitioners, and eventually how the different forms of “China” reached audience dispersed around the world. By this end, “China” already turns into so arbitrarily polysemic that we could never attain the embedded signified reference. Therefore, in this chapter, we probe into the relation between Hong Kong and “China” in terms of how Hong Kong became a base receiving and having exchange with capitals, intellectuals and ordinaries coming from across the territorial boundary and in this grandiose migration how the grand migration treated Hong Kong—the intertwining multi-directional and multi-layered storylines. From the very beginning of its development, Hong Kong film industry has been facilitated and furthered to full blossom by forces from different directions. These forces, monetary, manpower, creative power and technologies, accidentally, forcefully or under explicit plans, converged in Hong Kong to make film and cinema a lucrative business. Embracing a China-centered perspective, Sheldon Lu (1997) pinpointed several modes of Hong Kong film development: national cinema (as part of Chinese cinema), local cinema, regional cinema (e.g. influence in Southeast Asia) and global cinema (e.g. connections with the western world). However, in this chapter, with a Hong Kong-centered lens, it is argued that Hong Kong’s unique geo-political and economic status has made this city in the center of the wide-reached Sinophone world and the regional-global cultural circles. In a more subtle and dynamic interpretation of Hong Kong films, one cannot omit the “topophilia” signature embedded (Yau 2015). It implies an affective bonding between people and the place. This affective connection inundates a large number of films situated around the gloomy 1997 historical turn—the fin de siècle sentiment.



One more notion in this chapter was the technological and artistic innovation that had been non-stop carried on by Hong Kong cultural workers, dated back to the pre-war era when both filming and ­gramophone were newly invented. The worlding-ness of Hong Kong film: multi-cultural fusion performance and the border-crossing transportation were closely associated with the technologies. The synergy of technological form, art form and content innovation that had been practiced by Hong Kong film predecessors marked a charming yet underestimated chapter in the film development history. There is no other place in the world that the film industry of a city is ranked equivalent to a state level. In film history, we have British films, French films and Indian films. Hong Kong films are never equal to Chinese films. Hong Kong films are Hong Kong films per se. Hong Kong films already make trademark film industry that is characterized by cross-border geo-political identification, which, to a large extent, becomes the theme of this chapter.

The Golden Triangle of Early Film Development Being or not being part of China films, Hong Kong films have existed as an influential independent sector in Chinese film industry, named after a city rather than a country. A multi-faceted entity, Hong Kong films were incomparable and irreplaceable. (Lie Fu 2006, p. 83)

In Wong Kar-Wai’s sensually crafted art-house movie In the Mood for Love/Huayang Nianhua 花樣年華 (2000), the twin-city mirror reflection between Hong Kong and Shanghai was probed through the romantic ambivalence between the hero and heroine with dreamy intimacy and tacit distance. It also features the relationship between the film industry in Hong Kong and Shanghai. The first Cantonese feature film White Gold Dragon/Baijin Long 白金 龍 (1933) was based on a popular Cantonese opera script and starred the prominent Cantonese opera performers. The film paved the path of Cantonese film industry—South China film (Huanan Dianying 華南電 影). However, this Cantonese talkie was made in neither Hong Kong nor Guangzhou (aka Canton), despite that one could easily identify the social and cultural adjacency between these two places due to their same folk cultural and linguistic origin. The film was produced by a Shanghai film company: Tianyi.



Why Shanghai? Why Cantonese? The film White Gold Dragon well explains the historical love and hatred of the triple-city tale of Sinophone film industry: Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Sheng-Gang-Ao: Cultural Circle Historical contingency has made Hong Kong replaced Shanghai as the hub of Sinophone popular culture. In this British colony, even when mainland China was torn by wars, Chinese films were able to develop, circulate and evolve. Crossing borders, the technologies, human resources, sounds and images in film industry have served the ever-changing political, social and artistic purposes. The film industrial connection between Hong Kong and Guangzhou actually commenced before 1924 when the Lai brothers, founders of Hong Kong’s first locally owned film company—the China Sun, established their studio in Guangzhou. Those in the mass cultural circle, especially Cantonese opera performers who later became pillars of early film development, for a long period of time commuted between Hong Kong and Guangzhou, thus forming what was later called “Province-Hong Kong-Macao” cultural circle (Sheng Gang Ao 省港澳, province means Guangzhou under this context). That said, the founding of the China Sun Guangzhou studio further institutionalized the cultural exchange. In this studio, China Sun  film company’s first feature film was produced—a film thoroughly financed, directed, acted and processed by Hong Kong film professionals. The film was titled Rouge/Yanzhi 胭脂 (1925), a silent film shot in the Guangzhou studio and processed in Hong Kong China Sun. However, later the 1925 Guangzhou-Hong Kong General Strike strongly hit the sprouting film industry, cutting off the transportation route of film reels of the China Sun. After the strike, a large number of film businessmen sought to the adjacent city, Guangzhou, to re-establish their business (Zhou 2005, pp. 15–16). In the previous chapter, it is addressed that Lai brother’s civilized drama troupe “Yan Ngoh Kian” (人我鏡)—a popular art form among intellectual youths at that time—became the major casting for Hong Kong’s first film Chuang Tsi Tests His Wife/Zhuangzi Shiqi 莊子試妻 (1913). Similarly, another popular entertainment form, or even the most popular leisure among the mass population in South China, Cantonese opera supplied



performers, story scripts and even music footages for film production. As the successful case White Gold Dragon shows, Cantonese opera was the arm-reach source to film production throughout the prolonged pre-war and post-war eras. With their professional training, the existing scripts and repertoires, Cantonese opera performers could naturally adapt to camera lens, largely increasing the efficiency of filmmaking. Hence, Cantonese opera performers (as well as creative writers) became increasingly sought after when film turned to an equally popular leisure activity to Cantonese opera enjoyment. In the pre-war era, already a great number of movie stars were at the same time Cantonese opera performers or started their early career in the reign of Cantonese opera. Household names included Sit Kok-sin, Ma Sze-tsang (馬師曾) and many more to be named. Notably, at that time, as Guangzhou was the cradle and promise land of a large group of opera troupes, Cantonese opera performers, script writers and even scholars of opera and dramas who used to live in Guangzhou hence were driven to commute even more frequently across the China-­ Hong Kong border to broaden their career scope. Among them, many later became pioneer force in Hong Kong’s film industry. Lee Sun-fung and Ng Wui were among that group of scholars back in the 1930s who lived in both Guangzhou and Hong Kong. They later not only became the prominent directors in Hong Kong’s Cantonese film production industry, but also greatly contributed to the whole industry by establishing the cooperative collectivism film company Chung Luen in the 1950s, which was best known for its high-quality progressive film works (Zhou 2005, pp. 18–19). Cantonese Circle in Shanghai As a city in the neighborhood and a colony with relatively less political chaos, Hong Kong was naturally one of the optimal destinations where Cantonese population emigrate. However, up north, Shanghai, the most enchanting hub of social and cultural resources at that time, also attracted floods of Cantonese population. According to Lie Fu (2006), in the 1930s Shanghai, Cantonese population made a considerable proportion in Shanghai. A number of well-known brands established in Shanghai, among which some are still active today (e.g. Wing On 永安百貨, Sincere 先施公司 department stores, Bank of East Asia and Nanyang Tobacco company) were actually founded by Cantonese businessmen. As a common practice, staffs of these brand companies were mostly Cantonese migrants, making an influential Cantonese cluster in Shanghai. This



s­ignificant Cantonese community naturally brought along their favorite cultural taste, including their fondness on Cantonese opera performance and Cantonese films. As a result, Cantonese opera troupes were frequently drawn to Shanghai, so did cultural workers of various professions. It was this recurrent traveling flow of Cantonese population who carried their beloved Cantonese opera art, to a certain extent, had interlocked Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, the gilded triangle of early film development in the Sinophone world. A group of then popular motion picture stars mostly of whom later became backbones of Hong Kong’s film industry, such as Ng Cho-fan 吳 楚帆 and Cho Tat-wah 曹達華, were pursuing their performing career in Shanghai (Yu 1994, pp.  92–94). Tong Tik-sang 唐滌生, a Guangdong origin-gifted Cantonese opera screenplay writer who later became the most important cultural figure in Hong Kong’s Cantonese opera circle, also worked in Shanghai at the time being. Moreover, music record labels that produced Cantonese folk music disks were also active in Shanghai, bringing Cantonese operatic sounds saturate Shanghai streets and alleys via Gramophone. Interestingly, Cantonese opera performance, though with actors speaking a language alien to Shanghai-ese, was regarded a trendy singing practice compared to Beijing opera and Jiangnan tunes (Lee 2005, p. 25) (more discussion in Chaps. 6 and 7). Hence, Cantonese opera performance was also well known to Shanghai society, eventually becoming one of the popular cultural formats there. Shaw Family, Tianyi and the First Cantonese Feature Film It is not difficult to imagine that immersed in the chimera of new technologies (film and Gramophone), modish art form (Cantonese opera) and the considerable amount of Cantonese audience, Shanghai’s film tycoon, Shao Zuiweng of Tianyi Film Company (天一), spotted the market niche and produced films in Cantonese, featuring the innovative combination of the most popular art forms: Cantonese opera and film (Lee 2005, p. 27). All these also well explain why the first feature film in Cantonese was produced in Shanghai, instead of Guangzhou or Hong Kong, by a film company owner originated from Ningbo, Zhejiang, who, however, was more fond of Huangmei Diao (黃梅調, a folk tune accompanied by artistic dancing). Interesting to know is that, while the White Gold Dragon



featuring Cantonese opera actors who brought in their operatic performance made Tianyi a pioneer in the industry in the 1930s Shanghai, Shaw family’s film industrial zenith, in 1960s Hong Kong, was marked by their Eastman-colored wide-screen Mandarin blockbuster Huangmei Diao films. Back in the 1930s, Tianyi already became one of the most influential film companies in Shanghai. Their landmark production, the phenomenally well-received Cantonese film—White Gold Dragon, which was also the first Cantonese sound film, featured the popular Cantonese opera performers Sit Kok-sin and his wife Tong Suet-hing (唐雪卿). Sit, a guru of Cantonese opera, built up his film career fame in the 1920s Shanghai. This film rolled over the vast Cantonese-speaking community home and abroad, making a remarkable box-office success. This attempt thus drove Tianyi focus on massive Cantonese film production. While this golden triangle of early film industry was never free from chaos, the flourishing Cantonese film business soon threatened the market share of the established Mandarin film counterparts. A number of leading film companies in Shanghai (e.g. MingXing 明星電影公司, the rival of Tianyi) formed an alliance to resist the production mode of Cantonese films, which, usually made within a short period of time to increase efficiency, was regarded pure commodity than mass cultural creation. It is understood that, to enlarge its audience base, Tianyi made best use of folklore sources and action-oriented visual-sonic enjoyments in their films, including ghost fables and sword fights. To Tianyi’s rivals, these contents were incompatible to Shanghai’s superiorly modern yet pretentious cultural taste. Moreover, the Republic of China government, led by KMT, inaugurated banning policy on films in non-Mandarin Chinese languages in order to promote their perceived “orthodox Chinese culture”. Tianyi was definitely in the eye of storm against this backdrop. Therefore, from 1933, Tianyi moved its base from Shanghai to Hong Kong to continue this lucrative Cantonese film business. Hong Kong then became a paradise of Cantonese film, with more than 80% of the directors migrated from Shanghai to continue Cantonese film production (Yu 1994, p. 93). Hints about the solid connection between Hong Kong and Shanghai could also be found in Hong Kong’s first film company—the China Sun. Aforementioned, Hong Kong was among the earliest East Asian cities receiving film technology. The first director in China Leung Siu Po was from Hong Kong, who commenced his filming career in Shanghai, such as the Stealing a Roasted Duck/Tou Shao Ya 偷燒鴨 mentioned in the previous chapter. The first Hong Kong locally made film Chuang Tsi Test His



Wife was produced by Huamei film company, which was the continuation of Asian Motion Picture Company originated from Shanghai. Noteworthy is that, the major contributors of this landmark film were closely related to Shanghai. The director and actor of this film, Lai Buk-­hoi, used to study film with Leung Siu Po in Shanghai. The cameraman of this film, Lo Wingcheung was taught by Brodsky, founding man of Asian Motion Picture, in Shanghai. The filming instruments used by Lo were borrowed from Asian Motion Picture too. Lai brothers started Hong Kong’s first local film company, China Sun, which later transferred business to Shanghai in 1925 when Hong Kong society was interrupted by the General Strike. When China Sun was revived in Shanghai in the name of Lianhua in early 1930s and later become one of the most influential film companies in China, most of the investors were still tycoons and businessmen from Hong Kong (Yu 1994, pp. 88–91). Given that the film industrial triangle constituted of Guangzhou-Hong Kong-Shanghai laid the solid founding stone for the whole film industry development in China and in the Sinophone world, conflicts and dynamics derived from language, cultural and political differences never gave way to a sheer harmony. Instead, the picture got more and more complicated as years went by.

National Defense Films in the Sino-Japan War According to film studies scholar Fu Poshek (2003, pp. 69–87), the Sino-­ Japanese war had dramatized Hong Kong’s sociocultural character and its geo-political apartness from the mainland—double marginality. Such disadvantage applied to the Hong Kong film industry as well, which, at that crucial historical turning point, was at the same time intensified. Facing the war, a large group of mainland Chinese intellectuals, who experienced a “mind and soul reform” during the May Fourth New Cultural Movement and embraced a China-centered, specifically the central-­plain cultural-centric mentality, were forced to take exile and seek shelter in this far-away yet safe colonized territory. However, they only discovered the huge gulf in terms of language, everyday lifestyle and social practice between Hong Kong and mainland China. Cleavages and disagreements between cultural workers across the border lingered in various social sectors. But it is also this incipient sense of difference and the double marginality that generated the ambivalent and hybrid identity that continues to haunt generations of Hong Kong people.



The Sino-Japanese war, on the one hand, disrupted the banning policy on dialect films vested by the KMT government. On the other hand, the outbreak of the war caused a phenomenal wave of southbound migration from Shanghai, making Hong Kong the hub of producing nationalist defense films. The destruction of Shanghai film hub by war led to disbanding of film talents: some remained in Shanghai’s concession, some headed to South West China while a lot more fled to Guangzhou and Hong Kong (Tan 1994). This huge influx of Chinese intellectuals was widely regarded as progressive and leftist cultural workers, upholding the common avid goal of anti-Japan and anti-imperialism, striving to revive the central-plain cultural Chinese nationalism through progressive art forms. Among this group, prominent names included Cai Chusheng and Ouyang Yuqian. If the Sino-Japan war was the first wave of southbound migration of cultural workers (1937), the landmarks of the consecutive wars further propelled the migration: the ending of Sino-Japan war in 1945 led to the “outcast the traitors” (e.g. those used to continue filming under Japanese occupation) who had to make their way to the South; the CCP-KMT civil war broke out right after the Sino-Japanese drive another wave of shelter seekers and the ending of CCP-KMT civil war triggered the third wave in 1948–1949, not to mention the later subsequent political conflicts under the CCP rule. Against this backdrop, Hong Kong provided a temporary “paradise” to the “orphans” (in the name of Cai Chusheng’s prominent film Orphan Island Paradise/Gudao Tiantang 孤島天堂 (1939), implicating the on-exile intellectuals as orphans striving in hardships). The first wave of émigrés brought to Hong Kong a special genre of film called “national defense film” (Guofang Dianying 國防電影). Actually, not only the émigrés filmmakers from mainland China, such as Cai Chusheng, the first Chinese director who won an international film festival prize for his Song of the Fishermen/Yuguang Qu 漁光曲 (1934), but also Hong Kong’s local film staffs were passionately devoted to making national defense films. For example, produced by film tycoons Joseph Chiu and Moon Kwan, 48 Hours/Si Shi Ba Xiaoshi (四十八小時) (1937) and At This Crucial Juncture/Zuihou Guantou 最後關頭 (1937) were regarded national defense epics with Hong Kong’s most popular film stars voluntarily participating in the filming, and the box-office revenue was donated to support the front line at the raging Sino-Japanese war. These cases occurred in the crucial wartime and, to a large extent, displayed commonalities between intellectuals from different origins. But



apart from these, deep-seated cultural gap still prevailed in the general film industry, making this wave of cultural exchange/encounter seldom a happy marriage. In the pre-war Hong Kong, the established film industry in Hong Kong and among the general Cantonese film production circle thrived thanks to the massification of the tabloid-like yet profitable film business. Led by Tianyi and other Hong Kong local film companies, Cantonese films in the pre-war era were from time to time fraught with mythological and legendary fables, sword-play adventures and sensational romances. Unlike the mainland Chinese counterparts who already inclined to Chinese literature adaptation, Cantonese filmmakers rather sought to Cantonese opera scripts for inspiration. This situation made the southbound filmmakers even more restless and determined to “educate” the Hong Kong folks. In Hong Kong, the China-origin intellectuals re-established the “China Film and Education Association”, which was disbanded by the war, in order to continue their long-upholding social responsibility of educating the nation with culture (Chen 1979, p. 78). However, though Hong Kong provided a temporary peaceful shelter to mainland Chinese filmmakers, this colonial city with a capitalist social system was by no means home to them. Instead, being a step-stone to the passionate youngsters to enter mainland China, Hong Kong was only a place to be left behind. A strong “one China, one people and one culture” ideology was exhibited in films during the wartime (Tan 2004). This representation was conspicuously shown in Cai Chusheng’s Ten Thousand Li Ahead/Qian Cheng Wanli 前程萬里 (1940), in which a group of overseas Mandarin-Chinese-speaking youngsters succeed to enter mainland China after they had had experienced cruelty and adversity in Hong Kong’s depraving capitalist society. Cai Chusheng and other mainland Chinese filmmakers framed Hong Kong from an outsider’s position. The conversation from the leading roles, “Goodbye (Hong Kong) indeed! I’ve really had enough!”, thoroughly expressed his condescending gaze toward Hong Kong. “The subject position established by the film is one that lies elsewhere, its gaze fixed intently at a place outside of Hongkong” (Leung 1998). Hence, a hierarchical power relationship was obviously exhibited from the national defense films that Hong Kong showed backwardness in terms of social and political awaken-ness. The determined and enthusiastic youngsters presented in the films who were eager to fight for the mother-



land had formed a strong contrast to the Hong Kong culture which was perceived as fraught with vulgar antics. By this end, Hong Kong and Hong Kong films had encountered “double marginality” in terms of its geographical location and the “slavishness” and “backwardness” caused by Hong Kong’s colonial status (Fu 2003, p. 53). That said, the fierce cultural and political tensions shown among the two groups of intellectuals did ignite sparks in a positive way. Learning from the inflow of cultural intellectuals from the north, Hong Kong film industry started to adapt serious literary works and drama plays, whatever based on May Fourth pioneer writers or western classics, into films. Whereas Chongqing, where the KMT government had moved the capital, produced anti-Japan propaganda films only and Shanghai concession could only produce movies under Japanese watchful eye, adversity had blessed Hong Kong becoming the remaining Chinese film production center embracing a variety of film genres. Noteworthy is that, in that critical period, Hong Kong not only served as a shelter place, but also as an important conduit to spread patriotic ideology to overseas migrants. In the wartime, the KMT government changed the strategy toward Hong Kong. Instead of standing on a moral high ground and condemning Hong Kong a capitalist poisoned land, the KMT government soon recognized the importance of this British colony “strategically and culturally” (Law and Bren 2004, p.  131). They sent officials and agencies to Hong Kong in order to spread nationalism. Intellectuals, leftist and right-leaning, moved to Hong Kong to contact the outside world, indirectly bringing in unprecedented booming of business and cultural industry. As many of the wartime propaganda films were still produced in unoccupied zones, such as Chongqing and concessions in Shanghai, films were exhibited in Hong Kong and were transformed into subtitled prints for screening abroad, through Hong Kong as a conduit, to advocate overseas compatriots join the anti-Japanese force2 (Table 3.1).

2  It is mentioned in Law and Bren (2004), the Hong Kong Film Archive keeps several prints of those wartime propaganda materials. The KMT government also published the monthly English periodicals reporting the production of national defense films and requested Hong Kong’s film company to transfer the prints into 16-mm films for worldwide distribution.



Table 3.1  Production of films in Shanghai and Hong Kong before and during wartime Year 1909–1920 1921–1930 1931–1937 1938–1945 1946–1949

No. of films produced in Shanghai

No. of films produced in Hong Kong

33 644 459 571 157

2 11 195 396 434

Cited from: Leung GL, 1993, The evolution of Hong Kong as regional movie production and export centre. MPhil thesis, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. pp. 19–20

Hong Kong Film and “China” in Contestation Film critic Law Kar (1990, p. 15) once commented that, “I cannot help but feel sorrow for those who were forced into exile while turned out becoming pioneers all over again establishing a Mandarin-language film industry. I at the same time feel pity at the tinkering and ‘cover-up’ of the history in this period”. In the struggle between the left and right camps in the immediate post-war era, in the 1950s Hong Kong, film business and stardom development was veiled by ideological conflicts. It is only through re-examination into the 1950s film business from both historical-social and cinematic lenses that one can grasp a fuller picture. The Right Camp In 1947, a grand film company was founded in Hong Kong—Yung Hwa Motion Picture Industries (永華影業), co-launched by S. K. Chang and Lee Tsu-yung, the former one was called the “king of movie business” in Shanghai, famous for his creativity in running business in cultural industry, and the latter one was also a Shanghai-based tycoon. During the Sino-Japanese wartime, S.  K. Chang, who already established his Hsin Hua film company (新華影業) in Shanghai and produced well-received films, did not leave the Shanghai concession and had to cooperate with film administrators from Japan. Chang’s film company was turned into China Film United (Huaying 華影), administrated by Kawakita Nagamasa (川喜多長政) from Japan who himself was also a filmmaker and a China-know-all. Though being an accused traitor, Chang and Kawakita became good friends and together had produced a series of high-quality



films, among which Chinese figures and Chinese spirit were still featured in most of the works (Lin 2014). According to Chang’s wife, Tong Yuejuan 童月娟, a filmmaker too, Chang never made a single traitor film ever. But the relationship with Japanese during the wartime, without doubt, made a dark spot in Chang’s personal history with the name “traitor Chang” (HKFA 2000; Law 1990). In the later stage of Chang’s film business in Hong Kong or elsewhere, attacks from the pro-PRC left camp never ceased. To note that, Chang and Kawakita’s friendship persisted even after the war and until Chang’s death. The friendship later facilitated Hsin Hua (based in post-war Hong Kong)’s distribution network in Japan. After the war, Chang met Lee Tsu-yung in the trip in the United States and decided to invest considerable monetary resource to film business with their own production house and studio. With the most advanced equipment purchase overseas, Yung Hwa’s general manager Lee Tsu-­ yung, as mentioned in Chap. 2, was determined to revive the war-torn mainland Chinese film business. It has been debated that whether Lee Tsu-yung with his Yung Hwa film company embraced a deep-seated right-leaning ideology, considering that the signature feature films, the Soul of China/Guo Hun 國魂 (1948) and the Sorrows in the Forbidden City/Qinggong Mishi 清宮秘史 (1948) received well recognition from the KMT. During Yung Hwa’s shambling financial crisis, KMT even rescued the company with a considerable amount of investment (Chung 2011a, p. 105). However, Law Kar argued that the establishment of Yung Hwa was simply a business decision: in the civil war, Hong Kong was far better than Shanghai in terms of filmmaking, those who were recruited in Yung Hwa were actually from different backgrounds, both left and right, it was until Yung Hwa in the fringe of bankruptcy that Lee sought to KMT’s investment. Law tried to argue that, “as an entrepreneur of cinema, Li’s record was one of the definite achievements, but he fell prey to political manipulation… the struggle between the Communists and KMT extended into the cultural arena and is a testament of the eternal tragedy” (Law 1990, p. 16). Due to financial crisis in Yung Hwa and the later conflicts between S. K. Chang and Lee Tsu-yung, Chang left Yung Hwa in mid-1948. Chang soon formed another partnership with Yuan Yang’an, an attorney from Shanghai. They founded the Great Wall Pictures in 1949. But this business collaboration did not last long, and Chang quitted Great Wall in 1950. In speculation, it was due to fundamental ideological difference that Chang and Yuan separated (Law and Bren 2004, p. 147; Wong 2000,



pp. vii–viii).3 Yuen renamed the company Great Wall Movie Enterprise, invited left-leaning staffs and started to show support to the newly founded CCP regime in mainland China. In 1952, S. K. Chang moved his original Hsin Hua from Shanghai to Hong Kong, making films in Wader studio (華達片場), located at nowadays Diamond Hill, Kowloon. Between the CCP-led mainland China and the on-exile Republic of China relocated in Taiwan led by KMT, Chang stood by the latter. He initiated the formation of a KMT-leaning association to line up a group of right-leaning film workers in Hong Kong, suggesting their political inclination in the realm of cultural industry. Throughout the years, the association carried out various activities to show consolidation with the ROC government in Taiwan, such as film stars joining the Double-Ten National Day Celebration held on October 10 every year (HKFA 2000). By doing so, putting political loyalty exhibition aside, right-leaning film workers facilitated distribution networks of Hong Kong films to Taiwan and overseas countries where a considerable proportion of migration population were KMT loyalists. Noteworthy is that, Hsin Hua was among the few independent Mandarin film companies that could survive until the 1960s when Hong Kong film industry was dominated by film conglomerates from Southeast Asia. The advanced filming techniques of Hsin Hua secured a large Taiwan market and even the Japanese market, due to Hsin Hua’s long-lasting cooperation with prominent Japanese film companies. Alongside with ROC supporters who stayed in Hong Kong instead of moving to Taiwan, the American government, as an alliance to the KMT Taiwan government, subsidized different cultural organizations in Hong Kong to promote values of freedom and democracy, such as the Voice of America radio broadcasts and the Asia Film Company (亞洲影業), which was established in 1953 but only lasted until 1958, producing only nine films. Despite its political economic background, from the perspective of cinema language, the films made by Asia Film Company, which was led by Chang Kuo-hsing, a right-leaning media entrepreneur, were far from ideological propaganda but had shown sophisticated filming techniques (Chang 1990). Among the productions, Half Way Down/Ban Xialiu Shehui 半下流社會 (1955) was the most anti-Communist. In the film, stories of intellectuals in exile who lived in Tiu Keng Leng (also called 3  According to different materials, the reasons of why S. K. Chang quitted Great Wall varied. Political and financial reasons were the two main arguments.



Rennie’s Mill, a district gathered a cluster with a large group of in-exile KMT soldier and pro-KMT mainland intellectuals). However, according to Law (1990, p. 20), the emphasis on the concepts of unity and rejection of the capitalistic lifestyle in Hong Kong were actually correspondent to those left-wing productions (Law 1990), while the anti-Communists messages were only delivered in conversation lines. The Leftist Camp Besides the Great Wall which later left-leaned under the supervision of Yuan Yang’an, the non-ceasing cascade of southbound intellectual migration brought to Hong Kong a large group of progressive cultural workers who hoped to build an equalitarian and liberal society against the colonial capitalism. Against the backdrop intertwined by the Cold War and CCP-­ KMT civil war, this group of cultural elites were regarded as leftist-leaning mainly due to their denunciation against capitalism and belief in communist idealism. Among them, some escaped to Hong Kong due to social turbulence caused by the CCP-KMT civil war, some were “abandoned bourgeois” under the new cultural policies from the CCP-led PRC (e.g. the banner of proletariat art). The latter group intellectuals-cum-literati who could not help but had to escape mainland China, after settling down in Hong Kong, were determined to pass down the idealism of “May Fourth Movement” and “New Cultural Movement” in Hong Kong (Rayns 1990). To them, Hong Kong was a place of complication and dilemma: the safety shelter British colony Hong Kong accommodated a population of predominantly Chinese, while a “culturally barren land”—capitalistic profit-making be the status quo with thin air in high culture, not to mention local people’s consciousness to resurrect the glorious 5000-year-old central-plain culture. In the film realm, for a long time, Hong Kong films, more or less equivalent to Cantonese films, were despised by progressive intellectuals for the lack of educational value or social responsibility. Given that this oversimplified accusation is no longer valid as Hong Kong filmmakers also spared every effort in making national defense films in the juncture of Sino-Japanese war, the dual binary of “Chinese progression” and “Hong Kong backwardness” frustrated intellectuals from mainland China. In the film business, some of the so-called leftist joined Yung Hwa and Great Wall (formed by S.  K. Chang and Yuan Yang’an), by means of



r­eading clubs and drama groups—collectivistic education-cum-art activities—to disseminate idealism of anti-capitalism, anti-feudalism and social class liberation, which, though, bothered Yung Hwa’s Lee Tsu-yung very much. The leftist intellectuals also formed study groups and gathering activities in a large variety in order to foster comradeship and better promote their political idealism. The leading actor of the Sorrows of the Forbidden City, Shu Shi, was among these idealistic film workers. Shu Shi, along with other enthusiastic communist loyalists, formed the Hong Kong Filmmakers Study Group (Wong 2000, pp. 57–58). The participants of these activities later became the major force in the Yung Hwa strikes in 1950–1951 when the company was in financial troubles. Serious financial problems and the continuous worker strikes eventually led to Yung Hwa’s temporary shutdown in early 1950s. Noteworthy is that, this wave of left-wing political activities in Hong Kong’s film realm sprouted from the late 1940s under the ideological umbrella of Marxism and collectivism. It was also the period that the CCP troops horned triumphant marches in the civil war against KMT.  The communist idealism led to the advancement of what later called the Collectivization Movement in Hong Kong’s film industry. This movement was carried out in a form of founding film company on the principle of cooperative and collectivism. Those leftist cultural workers who left Yung Hwa soon founded their own film companies in the name of their political idealism: Da Guangming and the Fifties were two representatives. Film workers founded their own companies with the aim to establish a management structure collectively controlled by all levels of staffs—a radical promotion and actualization of egalitarianism (Rodriguez 1999). Some other companies such as Nan Kwok (Nan Guo 南國), Nan Kuan (Nan Qun 南羣) and Longma (Long Ma 龍馬) were also founded, while in a more direct connection with the political force: film companies established under the instruction from the CCP core leader Premier Zhou Enlai (Chung 2011a, p. 111). The above film entities gradually formed a leftist alliance. Left-leaning film companies and cultural activities were to a large extent funded by PRC capital through the Xinhua agent (China’s news agent in Hong Kong, but mostly served as the representative of PRC in the British colony). Not only funding filmmaking, but also film distribution was assisted through the Xinhua linkage. Left-camp cinemas were established (which was known as Double-South line (Shuangnan Xian 雙南線) in the



late 1970s and 1980s) to specially show leftist films and mainland Chinese productions. Left-camp films were also given the privilege to be distributed in the mainland. Left-camp newspapers, such as Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Pao became the platform of film reviews to further increase public exposure of left films. A series of Yung Hwa industrial actions with high-profile participation and mobilization of leftist film workers triggered the British colonial government to swing the iron fist by deporting a number of left-wing film workers in 1950–1952 (more than 20 film workers were deported, including prominent film actors and directors such as Shu Shi and Sima Wensen (司馬文森)), for the sake of “security and public order”. The climax of British colonial government’s iron fist measurement was ignited during the 1967 social disturbance, against the background that labor strikes, sabotages and violent clashes with the police occurred frequently, which were regarded as highly related to leftist organizations, the government even sent riot police to a left-camp theater—the Silver Theatre in Kwun Tong and closed down all screening activities (Rodriguez 1999, p. 16). Later, Da Guangming moved back to mainland China. The Fifties was dissolved due to the forceful deportation happened to film workers and a wave of northbound home returning among a group of mainland China-­ origin key filmmakers. The Fifties was then transformed into the Feng Huang movie enterprise (鳳凰影業) and continued to make films inclining to leftist ideology. Besides, Sun Luen film company was established in 1952 by a left-leaning newspaper chief editor Liu Yat-yuen. Sun Luen represented the leading leftist force in the Cantonese film circle and gathered a group of well-known film talents such as Lee Tit and Ng Cho-fan. Since 1950s onward, the Great Wall, Feng Huang and Sun Luen were the front-line leftist film companies in Hong Kong, having close relationship with the new CCP regime in mainland China. Important to note, in the 1950s and 1960s, it was the patriotic film talents from the major left-camp film companies in Hong Kong (e.g. Nan Kwok and Sun Luen) that facilitated the establishment of Guangzhou Zhujiang Film Company (珠江電影製片廠). In the 1960s, Sun Luen and Zhujiang collaborated a number of progressive films, such as the 72 Tenants/Qishier Jia Fangke 七十二家房客 (1963)—the “muse” of Cho Yuen (楚原)’s House of 72 Tenants/Qishier Jia Fangke 七十二家房客 (1973)—a Cantonese film that carried the same title as paying tribute to the



1963 version. This feature film by Cho Yuen was marked a turning point from which Cantonese film Hong Kong revived again. While it seems that a clear-cut border had been drawn between the right and left camps as the situation of the Cold War and CCP-KMT duel showed during the immediate post-war era, under some circumstances the boundary line could actually become ambiguous and resilient as time went or when it came to business talks. In the 1950s and 1960s, two major film studios—Shaw Brothers and MP&GI, though were categorized as rightleaning according to their effervescent business performance in Taiwan, craved for a larger variety of film supplies to saturate their theater chains in Southeast Asia. The left-camp productions from Great Wall and Feng Huang, which were filmed in a serious artistic attitude and usually presenting humanistic and educational themes, were purchased by these film tycoons. Moreover, the film stars who were already extremely popular among Southeast Asian audience since 1930s, such as Ng Cho-fan, was highly acclaimed as panacea of box office and fervently sought after by film companies of left and right. To a certain extent, with this occasional blurry line between left-right, the left-camp film companies and their products based and manufactured in Hong Kong became the only window for CCP-China to talk to the world under the mainstream film circulation realm (Wong 2000, pp. vii–viii). Films from Divergent Political Camps The breaking out of the Korean War in 1950 and the subsequent Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union camps further separated the world accordance with the geo-political position. Since 1951, Hong Kong, as a Chinese society but under the British colonial rule, witnessed intensified conflicts between the forces from different camps: forces supported by the United States, by the Communist China and the KMT-led China, as well as the role played by the colonial government. To note that, the newly found CCP-China exerted tight control on film importation and exhibition. All imported films, including those made by left-wing film companies in Hong Kong, had to go through a censor procedure by the central government committee. That said, only film productions from left-leaning companies were possible to be screened under the CCP regime. Under this context, a facilitator-like professional union was established in Hong Kong to strengthen patriot cultural workers’ connec-



tion with mainland China. To communist idealist and CCP supporters, the CCP-rule China in the mainland would eventually turn to the p ­ romising land to a great Chinese nation. In 1949, along with the establishment of PRC, the South China Film Workers Union (華南電影工作者聯合會) was founded by a group of prominent filmmakers who were at the same time in line with the CCP-China. The founding of the union was multi-­purposeful: a platform to perpetuate and consolidate the South China cultural and ideological front-line consolidation, and a bridge between mainland Chinese and Hong Kong film circle especially in terms of film circulation. Members of the union, many of whom were all-time movie stars, along with their film works got privileges to access to the mainland Chinese market. To CCP officials in mainland China, cultural workers from Hong Kong were important resources for the newly established PRC to communicate to the outside world, especially during the crucial era that Communist China was under embargo from the United Nations due to the outbreak of Korean War. According to official records from the union, plenty of filmic works and stage art were collectively (sometimes voluntarily) created by union members, among whom a great number were founders and backbones of aforementioned major leftist film companies at that time, dedicating to moral education (e.g. equality, fidelity), pro-communist Chinese nationalism and anti-capitalism sentiments. Troupes formed by union members also paid visits to mainland China to celebrate the founding of new China and toured to Southeast Asian countries in order to share solidarity with pro-communist China migration forces (South China Film Workers Union 2009). On the other hand, the KMT-controlled Taiwan government also applied a strict censor system to film importation. Only films produced by members of the Filmmakers Free General Association (aka Freedom Association, 港九電影戲劇事業自由總會) could be screened in Taiwan. Filmmakers, performers and even technicians who had any linkage with the left-leaning bodies would be deemed as falling into the enemy’s camp and thus their products were forbidden to enter the Taiwan market. Similar to the South China Film Workers Union, the Freedom Association endeavored to enlarge their political camp—the anti-communist force, by means of organizing tour groups to Taiwan (e.g. celebrating birthday with Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of KMT) and movie star touring around the Southeast Asia in order to consolidate the overseas compatriots. Against the background that constituted of tensed political conflicts, a dynamic ambiguity between political and commercial concerns was



unfolded. Films made in Hong Kong, mostly in Mandarin and Cantonese, were in great demand in adjacent markets—mainland China, Taiwan and overseas Sinophone markets. However, access to desired markets beyond the domestic terrain was largely determined by film workers’ political stance. To survive and to secure market size for film distribution against the backdrop of CCP-China and KMT Taiwan’s restricted state border, even apolitical filmmakers had to show “loyalty” to either the left or right. Furthermore, disassociation with friends and colleagues who were in the opposite camp was necessary, whether in public or private (Chung 2011a, pp. 117–120). Film historian Chung Po-yin bewailed in her book over the left-right conflict period that, “it is the era that political task triumphed market profit” (Chung 2011a, p.  120). From another perspective, to certain extent, political value is the camouflage of market profit. Actually, for a number of film companies, the claimed ideological badge was simply a step-stone to the markets they had longed for. Under the table, interactions between left and right still existed. Situated in the special geo-­political point, Hong Kong witnessed the intertwining dynamics while possibilities (un)expected at the same time took place in this tiny territory. As time went by, changes in the market, the film industry as well as in the large socio-political canvas awaited to lift the curtain for a new era. The Dissolved Politicization and New Attempt of Co-production It is not until the door-opening policy promulgated in the PRC in 1979 that filming resource were more frequently exchanged in Hong Kong, PRC and Taiwan. In the wake of China’s gate opening in the late 1970s as relics of Cultural Revolution were rapidly swept away and the Cold War mentality was very much diluted, ideological conflict slowly gave way to commercial production and collaboration. In the post-war era, left-leaning film companies from Hong Kong were bestowed privileges to promote films or even make films in mainland China. Sun Luen, the leading Cantonese film company in the leftist camp, shot the historical costume drama So Siu Siu/Su Xiaoxiao 蘇小小 (1962) at the West Lake attraction spot in Hangzhou China. The film was directed by Hong Kong’s eminent director Lee Sun-fung and featured a novice actress Pak Yan (白茵), who later became an iconic figure in Hong Kong’s film and television domains. The picturesque scenes accompanied by So Siu Siu’s legendary romance made the film talk of the town in 1962 Hong



Kong. During that period, a number of similar cooperative opportunities between Hong Kong left-camp companies and filming institutions from mainland China took place (Hu 2000, pp. 15 and 23), while this emerging trend of border-crossing cooperation was seriously interrupted by the Cultural Revolution. It was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that Hong Kong local filmmakers had further cooperation with mainland China as part to implement the new cultural policy of the post-Cultural Revolution PRC government. The traditional leftist film companies, Great Wall, Feng Huang, and the newly founded Chung Yuen (中原電影) were integrated into Sil-­ Metropole Organization in 1982. The main purpose of this CCP-Chinabacked company was to resurrect and develop left-camp cultural arena in Hong Kong. Knowing that Hong Kong had always been a vital conduit circulating cultural products from mainland China to the world, under CCP-China’s new policy, it was of great importance for the central government to re-build their bondage with the pro-CCP film circle in Hong Kong (Chiu and Shin  2014, pp.  171–172). Based in Hong Kong and registered as a private firm, Sil-Metropole played the roles of a bridge and a mediator between Hong Kong and mainland China. Being a vital mediator throughout the years even until now in the 2010s, Sil-­Metropole bridged Hong Kong and mainland China in terms of film investment and distribution across the border (Sil-Metropole 2010).4 Another milestone of Hong Kong, CCP-China collaboration occurred among the well-known New Wave directors. As mentioned in Chap. 2, after returning to Hong Kong from their overseas study, this group of Hong Kong new generation filmmakers were yearning for “angle ventures” to make their first feature film even though most of them were already working in different television stations. Interesting, against this backdrop, a series of New Wave films were accomplished thanks to left-­ camp investment (Chung 2011a, p. 280). Ann Hui’s Boat People/Touben Nuhai 投奔怒海 (1982)—one of her landmark Vietnam refugee trilogy— was an exemplar of the Hong Kong-Guangdong connection. The film was produced by a left-camp film company—the Bluebird Film Company (青 4  Due to strict policy toward foreign films and foreign-China co-production, a series of procedures and censors were required for Hong Kong films. But once the film was made in relation to Sil-Metropole in terms of investment or production, it would be treated as a national film(國片) and distributed in mainland. Sil-Metropole also played the role as a “consultant” to Hong Kong filmmakers in regard to China’s censorship policies.



鳥電影公司). Even though the Boat People almost touched the nerve of CCP government as people could easily associate the Vietnamese refugees featured in the film as those escaping from mainland China to Hong Kong, the film was successfully permitted to shoot in Hainan Island (South of China). The breakthrough was made possible thanks to the long-term connection between Hong Kong’s pro-CCP cultural workers and patriotic businessmen, in this case, Hsia Meng (夏夢 former leading actress of Great Wall and the founder of Bluebird Film Company) and Fok Ying-­ tung (霍英東 a pro-CCP patriotic business tycoon who financed the Bluebird) (Lie Fu 2009, pp. 63–64). As a matter of fact, little is known that the first co-production between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese film companies before the Boat People in 1982. Information shows that early post-Cultural Revolution co-­ production film could be even dated back to 1980—a film known as Real Kung Fu of Shaolin/Renwu Keren 忍無可忍 (1980). It was understood co-produced by Hong Kong’s Hoi Hwa Film Corporation (海華) and Fujian Film Studio (福建電影廠) (Lie Fu 2009).5 Following this and the remarkable success of Ann Hui’s Boat People, more co-productions appeared in following decade. Prominent former Shaw Brothers director Lee Han-hsiang 李翰祥 was greatly benefited by this wave of co-production as he presented to the world grand productions The Burning of Imperial Palace/Huoshao Yuanmingyuan 火燒圓明 園 (1983) and Reign behind the Curtain/Chuilian Tingzheng 垂簾聽政 (1983). Through the assistance of patriotic Macao mogul Ho Yin 何賢 who was closely related to Beijing, Lee was granted the chance to film his epic Qing Dynasty period films in the authentic Forbidden City (instead of in the Shaw Brothers studio). Though Lee had been well known for mastering historical period films set against the backdrop of different emporia dynasties, this time by moving the filming studio to the real palace, both Lee and the CCP-China government showed each other’s new achievement in the film industry. In order to legitimize this Hong Kong-mainland co-production, in 1979, the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China formed the China Film Co-Production Corporation (CFCC) 合拍公司 to oversee collaborations between foreign and mainland Chinese companies. 5  Little information could be found about this film in Hong Kong Film Archive or from online platforms. It is said that the film was coarsely made but was shot in the mountainous scenic of Fujian, South China.



Throughout the 1980s, ventures from Hong Kong and Taiwan ­increasingly flooded in mainland China, hoping to make good use of different filmic resources in mainland China through the assistance of CFCC.  Indeed, CFCC had played the vital role as the one but only bridge for those who were tempted by the mainland Chinese market. Through CFCC, foreign film companies processed and completed all sorts of chores: submission of film script for censorship, negotiation with relevant departments from the mainland Chinese side in terms of transportation of facilities, division of labor, filming schedules and a lot more miscellaneous. CFCC took up a de-facto official role to greet and deal with Hong Kong and Taiwan investors (Chung 2011a, pp. 357–360). The ventures from Hong Kong and the following Hong Kong—mainland co-productions became a win-win solution to both sides. On the one hand, Hong Kong filmmakers were given a larger diversity of filmic resources derived from mainland China’s natural and human scenes and were largely benefited from cheap labor cost in mainland. On the other hand, these collaborations became a panacea to many state-owned film studios clogged in CCP-China’s long-time planned economic structure. To millions of thousands mainland Chinese audience, for the first time, a new window was opened through the camera lens—a new genre of films in-between mainland and foreign filmic styles. The success of co-­ production became a silver lining in the planned economy that, to many mainland Chinese private entities, exemplifies the great potential of film business investment (Hu 1997). Besides business, in terms of filmic creation and esthetic style, the cooperation between filmmakers in Hong Kong and mainland China, to a large extent, has transformed the traditional industrial ecology in mainland. Learning from Hong Kong style, previous communist-modeled film scripts gave way to commercial profits. Visual-sonic impact and complex lens movement were added to increase level of excitement and enjoyment (Hu 1997). As mentioned, investors from Taiwan also joined the force to seek fortunes from the inchoating mainland Chinese market. As CCP and KMT, two political forces claiming the only legitimacy of representing “China”, were still in “civil war” even in the 1980s, this political reality became an obstacle to Taiwan businessmen. To overcome, Taiwan investors took a twisted route: by bringing their ventures to Hong Kong, the all-time free port city, they strategically turned their money wearing a “Hong Kong company” glove so that further collaboration with mainland Chinese



Table 3.2  Mainland film industry collaborated with Hong Kong and Taiwan Year


Collaboration with Hong Kong/Taiwan

Subsidy from HongKong/Taiwan

1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997

1 0 2 2 4 4 2 6 7 6 17 8 28 50 26 21 33 19 14

0 0 1 2 0 0 2 4 7 6 9 4 16 42 19 18 29 18 12

1 0 1 0 4 4 0 2 0 0 8 4 12 8 7 3 4 1 2

Source: An overview of co-production and aiding of films in China (1979–1998), in Asian Films Connections, March 20, 2000 Cited from Chung PYS, 2011a, Hundred-year of Hong Kong film industry, p. 360

CFCC was made possible. As a result, a new page of cross-strait ­cooperation was quietly unfolded. World-famous and award winning films such as Raise the Red Latern/Dahong Denglong Gaogao Gua 大紅燈籠高高掛 (1990), Farewell My Concubine/Bawang Bieji 霸王別姬 (1993) and To Live/Huo Zhe 活著 (1994) were produced under this wave of “untold” cross-strait collaboration (Table 3.2). Mania of Hong Kong Films in Mainland China Even though the ten-year Cultural Revolution interrupted the formal Hong Kong—mainland communication, as the chaos ended in 1976, Hong Kong films and film productions that involved Hong Kong’s participation again appeared in China’s national market following the door-­ opening policy. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the so-called golden age of Hong Kong film business, Hong Kong films became one of the



most sought-after entertainment forms in mainland. Transmitted through legal or underground channels, Hong Kong popular cultural products represented the perfect model of economic wealth, civilization, modernization and urbanization. In addition, the wide array of themes and visually stunning shots featured in Hong Kong films—from a touch of Zen to ecstasy—played the role as an outlet for escapism, anxiety and frustration for the mainland Chinese audience who were trapped and lost in the mainland China’s radical social change. Due to the geographical and historical connection between Guangzhou and Hong Kong, Hong Kong films were permitted to screen in Guangzhou’s theaters even before the door-opening era. And Guangzhou was the only city in the country that was bestowed this privilege (Hu 1997). Though in the Cold War period, only the left-camp Hong Kong films were allowed to be publicly shown in mainland China, people in Hong Kong and Guangzhou since the pre-war era already shared a lot of cultural resources in common, including household names of a bunch of Cantonese opera performance and film stars: Ng Cho-fan, Cheung Ying 張瑛, Cheung Wood Yau 張活遊, Ma Sze-tsang and a lot more. In other mainland cities, it was until 1977 that Hong Kong films were officially approved for public exhibition. At the beginning, only the left-­ camp Hong Kong films were permitted the screening license. Despite the limited exposure, against the backdrop of post-Cultural Revolution era that mainland audience were tired of communist model dramas, Hong Kong films became a fresh window for millions of ordinaries to peek the outside world. In 1982, The Shaolin Temple/Shaolin Si 少林寺 (1982) hit the market and drove over 500 million audience in mainland China, becoming a legend in mainland Chinese film industry and since then Hong Kong pictures paved a broader way to enter the mainland market (Jiang 2014).6 In the opinions of some mainland scholars, the characteristics of Hong Kong films: hybridity of west and east cultures, a down-to-earth angle, a phoenix legend of metropolitan, showcase of filmic innovation and the wide spectrum of strategically crafted visual attractions, had injected a dose of mafia-like stimulant to the mainland film industry which for a long time had been under strict control. Being a member of the Asian Four Dragons, Hong Kong projected a legend of economic success, which, in turn was reflected in its highly commercialized mass media products. The 6  According to Hong Kong Film Archive film collection, the film was produced by Chung Yuen film company. But it was also said that this film was a Sil-Metropole production.



commercialization of Hong Kong films and various urban stories in genres of hero, gangster, hero and even crime, mirrored the dream of urbanization and the “get rich quickly” mentality among millions of mainlanders. Mostly eye-catching was the once mania of Stephen Chiau that raged generations of mainland youths. The “Mo Lei Tau” black humor by Stephen Chiau (周星馳) created a special type of “food of thought” for mainland audience. The absurdity from Chiau’s black humor, though ostensibly referring to personal fault, to a certain extent, mirrored the disorder and absurdity of mainland society which was under dramatic transition. The series of “Chinese Odyssey”—A Chinese Odyssey Part One— Pandora’s Box/Xiyouji Di Yibai Lingyi Hui zhi Yueguang Baohe 西遊記第 壹佰零壹回之月光寶盒 (1995) and A Chinese Odyssey Part Two— Cinderella/Xiyouji Dajieju zhi Xianlv Qiyuan 西遊記大結局之仙履奇緣 (1995)—made a legend in mainland that drove thousands of college students into craze, though a precise box-office revenue was seldom recorded because a lot of them viewed the films via alternative channels other than cinema going. Through pirated VCDs and later internet platforms, the film series attracted the huge emergent group of young adults at that time (People’s Daily 2014). Mainland young audience, despite of possible language barriers, deconstructed and debunked the films, eulogizing the post-modern allusion through fantastical yet allegorical filmic language probing into all-time puzzles on human life. Classic conversational lines from the films were collated as “classics” and made into memes that continue to prevail in mainland Chinese subcultural domain (Hu 1997; Wong 2005; Jiang 2014). The popularity of legal and illegal video tapes and the diversity of screening devices and platforms was another facilitator: outdoor screening in rural areas, cinema screening, videotape screening clubs and VCD/ DVD home players. From public to private screening, Hong Kong films swept across the nation throughout the 1980s and 1990s (Jiang 2014, pp.  57–58). In the early 1980s, lacking the sufficient resource to make their own programs among the newly established provincial and municipal television stations, legal and illegal broadcasting of Hong Kong films and television episodes became one of the most reliable sources of media programs. Across the vast rural and urban areas, through these diversified channels, Hong Kong films have been pervasively accessed by countless mainland audience (Hu 1997). A historical contingency, again, fostered an even more powerful status of Hong Kong films in the wide Sinophone communities. In the early age



of film development, Hong Kong films was part of South China film industry. Though popular in Shanghai in the pre-war era, the influence of Hong Kong films, Cantonese films in particular, were sought after most in the regions where people speak Cantonese—in south part of mainland China and among overseas migrants who were originated from South China and sharing the common cultural and linguistic root. However, in the 1980s–1990s, Hong Kong films played the role as a beacon of modernity and urbanity to the vast mainland audience community, even though people speak their own languages and embrace distinctive cultural backgrounds. The commonalities embraced by the nation-wide audience: their thirst for knowledge from the outer world after ten-year domestic chaos when communist model plays predominated the cultural life, and the frustration derived from the whirlpool of value clashes in the transition from China’s socialism to “market economy with socialist characteristics”, from idealism to pragmatism, had bounded this huge group of audience to seek visual and mental escapism. As mentioned in the previous chapter, the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, which had a final say to Hong Kong’s future, welcomed a wave of fin de siècle ecstasy embedded in a wide variety of films in the 1980s and 1990s. This drastic change in Hong Kong’s popular culture domain, to a certain extent, resonated to the cacophonic, restless and cynical tone in the post-Tiananmen Massacre China.

Hong Kong-Taiwan Connection Brigitte Lin (林青霞), Sylvia Chang, Shu Qi (舒淇), Dave Wang (王傑) and a long list to come are household star names which could not be more familiar to mass audience in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. Some of them speak fluent Cantonese and currently are even more active in Hong Kong’s and mainland China than in their place of origin—Taiwan. They are superstars in the Sinophone popular cultural circle, adored by various international awards. They even hold Hong Kong citizenship, almost making people forget they are actually Taiwanese. Since the 1980s, Hong Kong became the most “international” stage for stars from Taiwan and even from Southeast Asian countries to kick off their global stardom. The 1980s also witnessed a radical transition in Hong Kong film industry partially due to the Taiwan hot money incursion and the long-existing “pre-sale” system. The “Taiwan factors” thus facilitated an even strong connection between the film industries in two regions. However, noteworthy is that, the cross-strait connection was far earlier than these.



Amoy Film Legend According to Jeremy Taylor (2008), it was in this British colony that the first “transnational” form of entertainment emerged for the Hokkien-­ speaking world. The large amount of Amoy films (Xiayu Pian, 廈語片) in the 1950s were almost exclusively made in Hong Kong while consumed by audience out of the territory (Taylor 2008). Made in Hong Kong but seldom screened to Hong Kong audience, Amoy films were mainly for exportation to Taiwan and countries in Southeast Asia, in particular the Philippines. Notably, in the late 1890s and early 1900s, among the gigantic flow of overseas migration from mainland China to Southeast Asian states, Hokkien-origin population made a considerable proportion alongside with their Cantonese, Hakka and Teochew fellows.7 Seeing a sizable market out there, Hong Kong filmmakers since the 1950s particularly produced Amoy and Teochew films for exportation purpose. It was not until 1956 that Taiwan had its first locally made Hokkien film (aka Taiyu Pian 台語片, literally means “films in Taiwanese”). It was called Xue Pinggui & Wang Baochai/Xue Pinggui Yu Wang Baochai 薛平 貴與王寶釧  (1956), a 35mm reel. But even before 1956, there were already 36 Hong Kong-produced Amoy films shown in Taiwan (Su 2016, pp. 22–23; Taylor 2011). The first Hong Kong-made Amoy film got public screening in Taiwan was the Xuemei Misses Her Betrothed/Xuemei Sijun 雪梅思君 (1949). Noteworthy is that, according to Taylor’s research, despite of certain vowels and usage differences between Amoy and Hokkien languages, the two language indications were used inter-­ exchangeable in many film promotion materials. While a film was categorized as “Amoy film” in the Philippines, it was titled a “Taiyu Pian” when shown in Taiwan. Amoy films evidently was among the earliest cohort of “cultural ambassador” made in Hong Kong and exported to Taiwan. Amoy is one of the regional languages spoken in the south part of China, with the same root as Hokkien which is spoken by a large group of local Han-ethnic Taiwanese. 7  Historical materials, literatures and oral histories are abundant. Here, the author mainly refers to Chinese literatures that record and integrate from first-hand historical materials. History of Chinese Indentured Labor (契約華工史, 1988) by Wu Wubin; History of Nanyang Chinese (南洋華僑史, 1989) by Chen Bisheng; Early Chinese Migration and Chinese Indentured Labor (早期華僑與契約華工賣豬仔資料, 2002) by Wang Linqian and Wu Kunxiang; History of Southeast Asian Chinese (東南亞華人史, 2003), by Lee En-han.



The Han-ethnic ancestors in Taiwan were constituted of migrants from Fujian province in mainland to Taiwan during the Ming Dynasty (seventeenth century). By then, Taiwan was under Dutch colonial rule and the massively exploited agricultural land demanded huge amount of labors. It was under this context that Fujian peasants started their cross-strait adventures. Though Taiwan had seen comes and goes of rulers from different countries, their connection with Hong Kong never ceased, except for the Sino-Japanese war period. In the early Cold War period, Amoy film even played a more important role than simply a carrier of film art or film business. It was regarded as a political weapon for KMT to promulgate its “orthodox Chinese culture” again the CCP regime in mainland China. It is understood that, though later the KMT government severely suppressed cultural products in non-­ Mandarin languages, in the early period of Cold War, the popularity of Taiyu Pian/Amoy films was buttressed by the government in order to eliminate Japanese colonial residues, to attract film talents who showed loyalty to the “Freedom China” and to consolidate the overseas pro-KMT population through film exportation. In both Hong Kong-made and Taiwan locally produced Amoy films, the south Chinese cultural heritages (folklores and folk music tunes) exhibited on silver screen became crucial cultural stocks for the KMT regime to present an “orthodox China”. To a certain extent, in terms of film business development, the popularity of Hong Kong-made Amoy films in Taiwan triggered the rise of Taiwan’s local Taiyu Pian production (Taylor 2008, 2011; Su 2016, p. 22). And what’s more, the prosperity of Taiyu Pian on the Taiwan island offered a platform of film career development to those from mainland China and Hong Kong who showed allegiance to the KMT-China. Though seldom spoke the Amoy or Hokkien language, these directors and actors, among whom Leung Jit-fu 梁哲夫 was from Hong Kong, made substantial contribution to the blossom of Taiyu Pian in Taiwan’s film industry in the 1950s. Hong Kong Film in Cold War Taiwan Back to the Cold War period, Hong Kong was situated between two worlds and two Chinese states—the Soviet Union leaning communist People’s Republic of China and the US-aided Taiwan KMT-rule government who claimed to uphold a “Freedom China”. Against this backdrop, as discussed, Hong Kong played the vital role as the very frontline of the



CCP-KMT battle: the influx of southbound cultural intellectuals and Hong Kong locals formed a solid left camp (a shadow society constituted of a large variety of left-camp social institutions) to deliver pro-CCP-China nationalist messages to overseas migration communities (Zhou 2000), and the KMT government strived to attract Hong Kong filmmakers in order to consolidate the “camp of freedom”. Discussed in the previous section is that, two different film workers’ associations were thus founded in Hong Kong to facilitate political propaganda in the film industry. Film workers from two camps paid visits to mainland China and Taiwan to show loyalty to different political powers. What’s more, Taiwan’s scenic diversification, cheap consumption and massive labor support attracted small companies travel across the strait and move their film production base to Taiwan. The first film made in Taiwan by a Hong Kong film company was A Girl Husband/Qianjin Zhangfu 千金丈夫 (1954), featuring “superstars from the freedom China”. Film business tycoon S. K. Chang also joined force and moved his Hsin Hua film company to Taiwan, largely due to his closed relationship with KMT back to the days in Shanghai. After Chang’s death, his wife Tong Yuejuan continued the film business and made a large variety of films collaborated with Taiwan’s counterparts. Another advantage for Hong Kong film companies to make films in Taiwan was the tax deduction privilege granted by the KMT government as one of the most effective measurements to attract film producers. In 1950, the outbreak of Korean War led to embargo toward CCP-led China and Hong Kong. The immediate consequence of embargo in the film industry was the decrease of raw material supply—films. Filmmakers then had to buy films from black markets or made use of old films left from previous works. In the same time, embargo also led to the skyrocketing of daily consumption, indirectly dampening people’s interest in cinema going. Consequently, film business in Hong Kong had a hard stroke and production decreased dramatically (Yu 1997b, pp. 36–37, 63–64). At this crucial juncture, the “Freedom China” offered an olive branch to Hong Kong. Aforementioned, during the Sino-Japan war, Hong Kong already became the most important window for the KMT government (in Chongqing, Southwest China) to mobilize overseas compatriots through exported films. When KMT government resettled in Taiwan after the civil war, again, Hong Kong film industry and film talents were targets for



KMT government to co-opt with amid their war against the Chinese communist party. Among them, Hong Kong’s film mogul Run Run Shaw had established closed relationship with the KMT government, for the sake of business expansion and presumably for the same notion of showcasing an orthodox Chinese (culturally or politically) (Rodriguez 1999; Fu 2000). And the founder of Hsin Hua film company, S.  K. Chang and his wife Tong Yuejuan were also close friends to the KMT. Since 1956 (Teo 1997),8 Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT government announced a set of policies to encourage Hong Kong’s right-leaning “freedom camp” filmmakers to produce films in Taiwan. Among them the most important one was KMT’s treatment to significantly lower the tax of raw materials for filming. Filmmakers from the “freedom camp” who intended to make films under the “national language” unification policy (Mandarin Chinese) could enjoy a tax deduction privilege: a deposit was required when the filming facilities, including raw films, were imported to Taiwan; once the production was finished and exported, the deposit would be returned. Equivalent to a “tax-free” policy, filmmakers from Hong Kong who had been suffering from embargo in the Cold War were phenomenally privileged with a cost 30%–50% lower. What’s more, in 1958, a policy to enhance national film industry was promulgated, entitled Hong Kong Mandarin films (from the freedom camp) the equivalent status as Taiwan national film, free from the restriction of foreign film importation quota system, and film professionals were given privileges and liberty to promote films in Taiwan and to foreign countries with assistance from KMT-affiliated networks (Rodriguez 1999; Cheng 2001; Su 2016;). One noteworthy finding from a recent research of Su Chih-heng was that, against the backdrop of KMT’s considerable co-opt with Hong Kong filmmakers with beneficial policies, a large group of Taiwanese local filmmakers took advantage of the tax reduction policy and drove Taiwan’s local Taiyu Pian to a production climax by “cooperating” with Hong Kong companies, though it was merely a shrewd business deal. This kind of false “co-production” once reached to almost 100 films. Due to the technological incompetency, most of the films were transported to Hong Kong for post-production (Su 2016, p. 57). 8  Before that, strict restrictions were vested on Hong Kong productions in the context of CCP-KMT duel. Extra tax was applied to Hong Kong films exported to Taiwan, as a political act to filter those “not freedom enough” filmmakers.



Hong Kong Blockbusters in Taiwan As the KMT government opened the door wide to Hong Kong filmmakers during the historical contingency era of Cold War, Hong Kong film productions found a promising land for film exportation just at doorstep—Taiwan. Gradually, Hong Kong production conquered Taiwan’s film market with more sophisticated filming techniques and more dazzling superstars “manufactured” under Hong Kong’s grand studios system (e.g. Shaw Brothers and MP&GI) (Lu 1995, p.  13). After the retreat of Japanese occupation, Taiwan became the base of the on-exile KMT government. The official language of Taiwan was soon shifted from Japanese to Mandarin Chinese, though Hokkien remained the mother-tongue for a large proportion of Han-ethnic Taiwanese. As mainland China for a long time only opened the door to left-leaning film companies and the huge population there were constantly involved in endless class struggles, Taiwan became a tempting “virgin island” of Mandarin film market. Two rival film moguls—Shaw Brothers and MP&GI—strived to conquer this market. After all, both of them, at the outset of their entertainment castle building, regionalization—internationalization had proved an effective mode: building regional theater network and film company acquisition. These hardware advantages allowed these regionally leading film companies soon to outshine productions of Taiwan local companies. The film giants, with little doubt, stirred the society by introducing visual-sonic appealing blockbusters, drawing up the curtain a golden age of Hong Kong films in Taiwan. Mandarin blockbusters at that time included the aforementioned Shaw Brothers production The Love Eterne/Liang Shanbo Yu Zhu Yingtai 梁山 伯與祝英台 (1963), which made a legendary box-office income that could never be broken in Taiwan. This historical period romance turned over the long-term Hollywood domination in Taiwan’s film market and eventually made Taipei into a town of craze. The director of this film was Lee Han-­ Hsiang, a talented director originated from northern part of mainland China and was famous for his grandiose mise-en-scène in filming dynastical palace dramas. The Love Eterne was derived from an art form called Huangmei Diao, a folk performance art prevalent in central part and Southeast of mainland China, where the Shaw family and interestingly, the Chiang Kai-shek family were originated. It was unknown that whether it was such cultural proximity portrayed by this film that helped the film suc-



cessfully gained fame. But it was certain that the picturesque and pastoral backdrop that showcased a central-plain cultural-centric “Chineseness” and the poetic romance accompanied by melodies sung in Mandarin Chinese altogether manufactured a “perfect cultural China” on silver screen, drawing people far away from the ongoing CCP-KMT battle and the melancholy of “losing the mainland”. Notably, this box-office miracle was made possible partially thanks to KMT’s support. Alongside with the reason that KMT was fond of the “perfect cultural China” depicted in the film, a friend to Chiang Kai-shek, Run Run Shaw could secure the advantageous screening time slots for his productions (Chung 2011a). In the following years, Shaw Brothers even set up their own distribution branch in Taiwan to directly oversee their film exportation business. Run Run Shaw also recruited a large group of Taiwan film talents, who used to work in the Central Pictures Corporation (中影) to join the Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong, though some of them later turned out were starred in erotic films for unknown reasons. This group of early cross-strait stars included Lily Chao (何莉莉), Chiao Chiao (焦姣) and Hu Chin (胡錦). Soon after this box-office miracle, in 1963, MP&GI coupled with Taiwan’s Lian Bang film company (聯邦) procured Lee Han-Hsiang to leave Shaw Brothers and to run his own company in Taiwan. Knowing that MP&GI had become a strong rival to the Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong’s film market, the situation was extended to Taiwan. While Shaw Brothers company bombarded the market with historical period dramas, the MP&GI featured urban melodramas, such as Our Sister Hedy/Si Qianjin 四千金 (1957) and Her Tender Heart/Yunu Siqing 玉女私情 (1959). The former one even won the Best Film during the 1958 Asian Film Festival hosted by Taiwan. Interestingly, Mu Hung (穆虹), the leading actress in Our Sister Hedy, was from a Taiwan origin who was invited by Hong Kong’s MP&GI to join the team in 1957. From the cases above, it is not difficult to imagine that, in the 1950s–1960s, situated in a special historical contingency, Hong Kong and Taiwan had commenced intensive cultural exchange despite possible language and cultural gaps between the two places. After all, Hong Kong in the backdrop of Cold War was turned into a meeting place. Between 1949 and 1963, among the top ten box-office grossing films in Taipei, four were produced by Shaw Brothers (Fu 2000, pp.  40 and 49). Since the landmark film The Love Eterne, the number of Hong Kong films shown in Taiwan, either filmed in Mandarin or dubbed in Mandarin,



gradually superseded Taiwan local films and occupied the second place in Taiwan market (foreign films have always dominated the market except for the year of 1973) (Lu 1995, p. 9). Hong Kong films had not only showed a robust and advanced industrial role model to Taiwan, but also constructed a collective memory to generations of Taiwan audience—a nostalgic yet ambiguously/ahistorically imagined community of “Chineseness” (Fu 2000) and modernized urban illustration (Chen 2011) (Figs. 3.1 and 3.2). On the one hand, Taiwan provided a remarkably wide market to Hong Kong films especially when mainland China experienced long-time political hustles and later the Southeast Asian market was gradually exerted by their governments’ tighter grip on film importation. On the other hand, the flooding of Hong Kong films accidentally drove Taiwan’s local film industry to a new stage thanks to the tax deduction policy. Irresistible was the arrival of film conglomerate the Shaw Brothers film company. Shaw Brothers presented a role model of modernized filming management system, glamorously exhibited the world-class filming technologies (e.g. the most advanced Eastman Kodak-colored wide screen) and delicately fabricated film scenes, revealing to Taiwan market the cutting-edged industrial model. The appearance of Shaw Brothers did bombard Taiwan’s local film industry, which at that time was largely owned and managed by the government (Feng 2003; Fu 2000). The considerable market share of Hong Kong films in Taiwan perpetuated since the huge success of The Love Eterne. Whirlwind Blows the Cross-Strait Film Industry In the 1970s, Hong Kong had made its vital role as the “Hollywood in the East” with not only grand studios set up by film conglomerates, but also new challengers—film companies operated in a resilient mode and in medium size—such as Golden Harvest. The Golden Harvest stormed the international film market with the Bruce Lee hits and later a series of urban action comedies starring household-name movie stars. The founding father of Golden Harvest, the late Raymond Chow once was the general manager of the Shaw Brothers. His network resources and experience in the film industry led him pay special attention to the Taiwan m ­ arket similar to his former boss Run Run Shaw. Golden Harvest also set up their Taiwan branch to better facilitate film distribution. By that time, Taiwan market was already filled with Hong Kong films: gangster films, action comedies, erotic films and urban melodramas—a larger diversity of urban

Fig. 3.1  Number of films screened in Taiwan—Hong Kong films and Taiwan films. (Sources derived from: (1) Lu, Fei-I, 1995, “The change of Taiwan feature film production 1949–1994 (1949–1994 年間台灣劇情影片生產之變遷:一個片目 研究)”, Journal of Radio and Television (廣播與電視), Vol.2 (2), pp. 1–30. (2) “The number of films obtained license of screening 1998–2016”, from Industry information sector, Taiwan Cinema Site. http://www.taiwancinema.com/ ct_133_265. Note: The data from 1995 to 1997 was inaccessible from existing public source. According to Taiwan national granted project summary (NSC 89-2412-H-004-004) “Survey of Movie going Pattern & Film Exhibition Industry In Taiwan: 1980—1999” (台灣電影觀眾觀影模式與電影映演市場研究:1980–1999), from 1996, the market share of Hong Kong films in Taiwan dropped from the previous 30%–40% to 25%, while the market share of foreign films significantly rose from previous 45% to 70%. Link: http://cinema.nccu.edu.tw/cinemaV2/lwisdominfo.htm?MID=24)





40 35 30 25 20 15 10 0

1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015


Fig. 3.2  Change of price of exported Hong Kong films in Taiwan (thousand HKD/km). (Data collected from the Census and Statistics Department, The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The results are calculated by the author. Note: (1) The data only covers Hong Kong domestic exportation, not including re-export data. (2) The films included in the figure are exposed and developed films over and less than 35 mm in width)

genres that marked the pulse of Hong Kong becoming a world-class metropolis. Taiwan people’s non-ceasing avid fondness in Hong Kong films was soon spread to other popular cultural products, making Hong Kong the most important trend setter to Taiwan’s mass population (Liang 1997, pp. 155–156). Against the backdrop that filmmaking became one of the most heated business sectors in the territory, businessmen and venture seekers tried their lucks in this melting pot. Seeing the tempting profits in Hong Kong film business, Taiwan investors had played a significant part. Dated back to the 1950s, Taiwan distributors already came to Hong Kong and purchased right-camp films. From 1970s, Taiwan investors started to directly involve in Hong Kong’s film industry through pre-sale system and financing film production. By doing these, Taiwan businessmen hoped to obtain franchised distribution right of popular Hong Kong films. Pre-sale system, derived from the pre-war era when Hong Kong’s Cantonese films were pre-purchased by Southeast Asian theater owners, was a business model that was particularly popular among Taiwan venture investors in the 1980s. On the one hand, small companies in Hong Kong were benefited from Taiwan investment and the Hong Kong cine-scene



was thus further rigorized with more monetary funds. It is understood that an industrial leader, the Cinema City, which was famous for its stunning action design and content innovation, was benefited from  Taiwan investment, such as Taiwan’s well-known Long Shong company 龍翔電 影. Long Shong, a Taiwan local mogul film distributor, became one of the largest external film investors in the 1980s Hong Kong film industry. Long Shong also ran its own television channel in Taiwan, which all day showed dubbed Hong Kong films, further contributing to heighten public exposure of Hong Kong pictures. To different Taiwan local generations, Long Shong’s non-stop Stephen Chiau “Mo Lei Tau” (wu li tou, 無 厘頭, means extremely hilarious with no reason) series during the Chinese New Year made hilarious memories every year. On the other hand, as Taiwan unveiled a huge market to Hong Kong film distribution and Taiwan investors played a stronger role in the industry, Hong Kong filmmakers in some cases inclined to tailor-make films to fulfill Taiwan audience’s expectation of “Hong Kong film”. Similar to the pre-war pre-sale system, in the 1980s, Taiwan investors only cared about the film genre (preferably urban actions) and casting (e.g. Andy Lau and Simon Yam), instead of encouraging content innovation. Therefore, an increasing number of films were made according to this template. Besides, as mentioned in the previous chapter, Taiwan financiers also started their theater chains in Hong Kong, triggering a structural change in Hong Kong’s cine-ecology. In the 1990s, Hong Kong’s film industry was even drenched with Taiwan ventures and the market was dominated by eight major Taiwan film companies (Chung 2011a, pp. 354–358). The gradually intensive cross-strait interaction facilitated the human resource exchange as well, such as eminent directors Chang Cheh and Lee Han-Hsiang from Shaw Brothers, and a large number of Taiwanese actors/actresses who sought a better future in Hong Kong. This trend of human resource exchange got even more intense in the 1980s when Taiwan ventures dominated Hong Kong market (Liang 1997). (Brigette Lin), a Taiwan-born actress, moved her acting career to Hong Kong in the 1980s. After her well-received performance in The Legend of the Swordsman/Xiaoao Jianghu II Dongfang Bubai 笑傲江湖II東方不敗 (1992), she successfully transformed from an “innocent young girl” featured in romance films, which were mostly adapted from romance literatures, to a versatile heroine. Playing the role of a transgendered legendary swordsman, Lin vividly demonstrated her huge potential in action movies. Hong Kong has indeed led this Taiwan star to her career



zenith. Lin was granted the best actress in the Golden Horse Film Festival and became one of the most influential household names in Southeast Asia. Noteworthy is that, Long Shong and Hong Kong’s leading cinema chain Golden Princess was the major producer of this household swordsmen-fighting film, making this picture an ideal example that demonstrated the most dynamic cross-strait filmic collaboration in the film industry history. Another outstanding figure was Sylvia Chang, another Taiwan-born Golden Horse awardee, joined Hong Kong’s film business in the 1980s too and became a partner in the Cinema City Film Company. She was also responsible in Cinema City branch in Taiwan, further tightening the business exchange across strait (Table 3.3).

Table 3.3  Box Office in Taiwan—Hong Kong films and Taiwan-invested Hong Kong films (thousand, New Taiwan Dollars) Hong Kong films

Box office Taiwan ventured Hong grossing (NT) Kong films

1. 武狀元蘇乞兒 King of 41,984 Beggars 1992 2. 黃飛鴻之三獅王爭霸 Once 39,526 Upon a Time in China 3 1993 3. 城市獵人 City Hunter 1993 36,506

4. 東方不敗II風雲再起 The East Is Red 1993 5. 翹課威龍3龍過雞年 Fight Back to School III 1993

31,554 21,783

6. 花田喜事 All’s Well, Ends 18,980 Well Too 1993 7. 歲月風雲之上海皇帝 Lord 14,309 of East China Sea 1993 8. 赤裸羔羊 Naked Killer 1992 9076 9. 水滸傳之英雄本色 All Men Are Brothers--Blood of the Leopard 1993 10. 廉政第一擊 First Shot 1993

1. 方世玉 The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk 1993 2. 黃飛鴻鐵雞鬥蜈蚣 Last Hero in China 1993 3. 射雕英雄傳之東成西 就 The Eagle Shooting Heroes 1993 4. 戰神(戰神傳說) The Moon Warriors 1993 5.新流星蝴蝶劍 Butterfly and Sword 1992 6. 神經刀與飛天貓 Flying Dagger 1993 7. 笑俠楚留香 Legend of the Liquid Sword 1993 8. 劍奴 Slave of the Sword 1993

Box office grossing (NT) 38,367 30,340 17,212

13,205 9667

8588 4862 3637



Cited from Chung PYS, 2011a, Hundred-year of Hong Kong Film Industry 香港影視業百年, p. 354



Transnational Cantonese Opera and Early Films The border-crossing networks of Hong Kong films, in particular Cantonese films, benefited from the wave of inter-regional trading (including colonial expansion) since the early nineteenth century, resulting in the formation of economic frontiers made up of maritime cities, such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore. Following the constant cross-territorial trades and migration, a considerable number of sophisticated and brainy merchants— intermediaries of commercial and cultural exchange, had gradually cultivated a Sinophone-based regional and even global system—the demand and supply circle of Sinophone cultural products. This system was constituted by nodes in different domestic or overseas cities. Shanghai and Hong Kong were important hubs in this wide-sprawl system. While Shanghai represented the Hai Pai (literally means the Shanghai camp, 海派)—under strong influence of the May Fourth New Cultural Movement, Hong Kong-Guangzhou circle was the hub of Yue Pai (literally means the Guangzhou/Canton camp, 粵派)—bonded by the common Canto-phone language. The Yue Pai culture, for a long period of time, characterized those migrated across the ocean to seek a better life in foreign lands, in Southeast Asia, North America and South America. The cheap migrant labors, traders and intellectuals, along with their descendants, brought a whole system of Yue Pai culture to exotic lands. Hence, Canto-phone culture as well as the transnational Yue Pai cultural development has laid one of the foundation stones to the later blossoming Sinophone framework. In reviewing the development of Hong Kong popular culture, one must never neglect the dynamics embedded in the “migration” population—they were the carriers and receivers of popular culture. It is admitted that we could never regard Cantonese language and the Guangzhoucentered Yue Pai cultural system the only or predominant one among the phenomenal migration population, which was generally formed in the late 1890s. But what will be focused in the following section is the dynamic connection between the popularity and transnationality of Cantonese opera and the early development of Hong Kong film industry. And the formation and development of culture under such intriguing ­context has a lot to do with Hong Kong, the port city, from where people and their cultural tastes sailed afar, and where people and culture encounter. From statistical record, Hong Kong films have widely reached to almost every continent in the world. Besides overseas Sinophone communities,



global audiences, despite skin color and ethnicity, once had a screen memory of Kung Fu legend and street gangster derived from Hong Kong films. Not only the film stars and stunning performance once delivered irresistible visual-sonic impact and sensual enjoyment through silver screen, but also the ideations conveyed from sounds and images inspired people with the imagination of nationalism. Border-Crossing Stars: From Stage to Silver Screen As aforementioned, the Cantonese film industry had its first golden age in the 1930s as two prominent productions, both were based on Cantonese opera and were produced in 1933—White Gold Dragon and Romance of the Songsters/Gelu Qing Chao 歌侶情潮 (1933)—hit the box office with a remarkable success. Though neither of them was made in Hong Kong nor even in Cantonese-speaking region, they both spotted Hong Kong as an ideal base for this lucrative business. Film companies from Shanghai and from overseas gradually built branches in Hong Kong, to make the British crown colony the “Hollywood of China” (Law and Bren 2004, p. 68). Ironically, while markets in mainland China and Hong Kong were fond of Hollywood productions, migrants in foreign places fostered the prosperity of Sino-language films. These films, made in Hong Kong, were largely well received across Southeast Asia and North America. Homesick and suppression from racial hostility, the huge community of migrants kept in mind their homeland “China”—an ambiguous imaginative communal entity might had been represented in very different categories— and they tended to seek comfort from sounds and images on silver screen. The sounds and images, to certain extents, were whipped off the political badges, resounded different versions of the imagined “China”. In the 1930s, Cantonese population numbered 30 and 40 million in South China while as a representative group among the gigantic migrant labor flow, they counted almost 10 million in Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas. This sizable cross-ocean Sinophone community had made a lifeline of Hong Kong films which had been embarrassed by the “double marginality” under the long-term Shanghai cultural dominance and later the KMT suppression on non-Mandarin culture. Cantonese talkies were exported to four colonies—Vietnam (French  colony), Malaya and Singapore (British  colony), Indonesia (Dutch  colony) and Philippines (American  colony), as well as Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and North



America. After the Sino-Japan war, this exportation network was even larger and reached to over 30 countries (Law and Bren 2004, pp. 187–188). The art form on which early Hong Kong Cantonese films was based— Cantonese opera—was once the most popular art form and leisure enjoyment in Cantonese-speaking regions, at the south part of nowadays mainland China. In late nineteenth century, following the wave of overseas emigration across the South China Sea and the Pacific, the need to enjoy Cantonese opera started to take root in foreign lands: tin mines and planation fields in Indonesia, cotton fields in South America and gold mines in North American west coast. Seeing the increasing demand, Cantonese opera performers, singers and troupes were then invited to have tour-staging in foreign countries. It was usually those established Cantonese-origin migrant traders or trader chambers who invited the troops. After taking over a month’s ship sailing, Cantonese opera troops or the most sought-after stars would stay in the inviting place and had touring performance, and sometimes the tour could last over a year. A number of prominent troupes and performers became prince-charming-­ like superstars among the huge Cantonese-speaking domestic and overseas population, so that they were invited to stay even longer. Interesting, because of this tradition, Bruce Lee, the later international Kung Fu film star, got a chance to be born in the United States when his father, a Cantonese opera performer was on his North American tour. In an interview with a Cantonese-origin migrant now living in South America, Mr. Ou Yang described the extremely flourished Cantonese culture in Mexicali (at the south border of US California state) over decades in the early twentieth century: people gathered here were from Guangdong province: Guangzhou, Taishan, Zhongshan, Kaiping, Zhuhai and many more. Every week, Cantonese opera troops were invited to perform in the city theater. Because most of them spoke Cantonese, they made the city like a mini Guangzhou town. Sounds of Cantonese operatic strings and percussions dazzled the city with a wholesome Cantonese cultural life.9 The Cantonese opera vogue raged across a large region in south part of China and across different continents. It was a transnational cultural ­influence that was at a more or less equivalent size to the Hollywood. This trend well explained why Tianyi film company in Shanghai was willing to 9  Documentary produced by RTHK, “Roots Old and New–To South America #2” (華人 移民史 – 闖拉美#2), September 15, 2016. Accessed via https://youtu.be/3N7Za4Y5zzo.



take a bold step to invite Sit Kok-sin, one of the Cantonese opera superstars, in their first Cantonese film production. The dazzling success of this picture in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macao and Southeast Asia was within and out of Tianyi’s expectation. The popularity of Cantonese opera stars on the one hand shocked this Shanghai film company. On the other hand, this result further drove them to continue adopting the strategy to stage Cantonese opera scripts and stars. While adopting Cantonese opera elements in film production was proved an effectively rewarding tacit, cultural workers in that time never stopped at simple imitation or modification. They strived to make Cantonese opera performance a top fad. In the 1910s and 1930s, Cantonese opera was injected with novelty from various sources—Hollywood films, Western musical and burlesque shows as well as operatic elements from other provinces such as Beijing’s Peking opera. It is understood that two opera gurus, Sit Kok-sin from Cantonese opera and Mei Lanfang (梅蘭芳) from Peking opera were loyal friends and got artistic inspiration from each other. Cantonese opera performance therefore was fused with new makeup techniques, stage settings, costumes and mise-en-scène. One of the trend-setting giants, Ma Sze-tsang, who started his performing career in Guangzhou and Hong Kong, once had a long tour in San Francisco in the early 1930s where he learned from Hollywood musicals and merged musical elements into Cantonese opera. When he came back to Hong Kong, he established his own film company and adapted Western elements in Cantonese opera filmmaking, such as performers in Western suit outfits during Cantonese opera playing. In the similar vein, in the aforementioned landmark Tianyi-produced film White Gold Dragon, Sit Kok-sin was dressed in suits instead of in traditional silk-embroidery gown—a popular style at that time called “talkies in western suits” (Xizhuangju 西裝劇). Sit, a legendary man in performing industry, had absorbed artistic techniques from different streams including Hollywood films and Broadway musicals, and toured in Southeast Asia where his play White Gold Dragon was extremely touted by mass population with effervescent. Interestingly, the well-received Cantonese feature film made in Shanghai—White Gold Dragon was actually adapted from a Hollywood film The Grand Duchess and the Waiter (1926). It is well suggested that, in the pre-war era, remarkably vibrant and effervescent inter-cultural flows had for a long time characterized the Sinophone cultural circle which took roots in the equally dynamic cultural centers of Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.



All-Time Vogue: The Love Parade A fascinating adaptation that displayed innovative East-West fusion at that time was the adaptation of Paramount musical film The Love Parade/ Xuangong Xianshi 璇宮艷史 (1929). After its grand release, the musical film had generated resounding success home and abroad (including cities in Asia). Amid the vogue of fusing western and eastern cultures in the then Sinophone cultural circle, The Love Parade Hollywood sound film was turned into multiple Cantonese opera films and later singsong films. First, the Hollywood film was groundbreakingly adapted into a Cantonese film in the form of Xizhuangju by Sit Kok-sin in 1930. Songs from the musical were recorded by French gramophone company EMI in Shanghai and the recording became a hit play of town. In 1934, Tianyi, after gaining huge success from its first Cantonese talkie film White Gold Dragon, invited Sit Kok-sin again to play the leading role in Tianyi’s adaptation version of The Love Parade. Interestingly, almost at the same time, Sit’s competitor Ma Sze-tsang also adapted this western musical and made his own Cantonese opera repertoire, with the songs re-made and recorded in 1931 (Wang 2008). The popular Hollywood production, a romantic comedy originally set in an Anglo-Saxon context, was under revolutionary localization. It was transformed and localized into Cantonese language with bewildering array of novelty musical and stage-performing experiments throughout different versions of adaptation: Western costumes and European court backdrops were mixed with Cantonese operatic singing, instrumental accompaniment and percussion effects. From the precious recording, we could still trace the hilarious and witty fusion of the original musical melody and everyday farce-like Cantonese narration, making The Love Parade a sought-after local vaudeville. The vogue of The Love Parade lasted for over 50 years. Twenty years after Tianyi’s breakthrough adaptation, MP&GI produced the film My Kingdom for a Husband/Xuangong Yanshi 璇宮豔史 in 1957 and a color-film sequel in 1958, showing tribute to this all-time legend Hollywood script and Hong Kong film history milestone innovative adaptation. The MP&GI 1957 picture was directed by Tso Kea 左几, featuring the most sought-after film stars in post-war Hong Kong film industry: prince-charming Cheung Ying, sing-song film diva Law Yim-­hing (羅艷卿), comedian Leung Sing-po (梁醒波) and versatile



singer Tam Lan-hing (譚蘭卿). In the film, similar to what had been tried by predecessor Sit Kok-sin and Ma Sze-tsang, the hero Cheung Ying (played the dashing singer in Fragrant State) charmingly performed various Western music instruments while accompanied by traditional Cantonese operatic tune singing. In fact, such fantastical fusion already became a common practice in post-war Hong Kong films, thanks to bold endeavors taken by Hong Kong film predecessors in artistic creation. In the early 1970s, The Love Parade fad still remained, and songs were again recorded by Fung Hang Record (風行唱片) (Yung 2009). Fully adapted to glamorous elements from Hollywood production, Sit Kok-sin had little doubt about pioneer revolving, rejuvenating and refreshing Cantonese operatic art and advancing Cantonese film development. He showcased his bold attempt to incarnate a sensual exotic stage play in Cantonese opera performance, by exhibiting European-style delicate props, costumes and backdrops. Ironically, this once revolutionary artistic achievement was under serious attack when Sit moved to mainland China in the 1950s, while this early artistic novelty and innovative combination of different art forms from different countries was preserved, nurtured and further transformed in Hong Kong, the British colony at the peripheral. By this end, the integration of Cantonese performing culture and film industry had been coming into age (Law and Bren, pp. 69–74). Cultural-Technological Fusion As mentioned, to many theater goers and cultural workers, Cantonese opera performance and the later Cantonese opera sing-song films were trendsetters in the pre-war era, thanks to a large group of artists’ arduous efforts renewing the art form. Being fashion itself, Cantonese opera even set newer trend after having fusion with other latest technologies, such as films and gramophone. American cultural scholar Andrew Jones (2001) focused on the affinities between Chinese popular music and Western genres, and radically revised previous understandings of race, politics, popular culture and technology in the making of modern Chinese culture and colonialism. Sinified  jazz and Cantonese opera incorporated with saxophone were great examples. From the perspective of media culture and communication technology, the invention and advancement of gramophone facilitated the flourishing of Cantonese opera, and thus changed the soundscape. Gramophone



brought stage performance—as a collective viewing activity—to private space for personal enjoyment. Also, this new technology transferred the one-off on-site music in theater to everyday listening activity, such as music playing in tea houses and during house gathering. By this means, Cantonese opera music was profoundly embedded in overseas migrant laborers’ everyday life. Canadian media scholars Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan10 commented that communication forms have a significant social impact that is related to the preservation and communication of the ideas from power rulers, and therefore the general social perceptions. It was the medium rather than the contents that changed human’s life mode. As the invention of printing technology facilitated the wide spread of religious and academic thoughts, music recording and playing devices significantly transformed overseas Sinophone cultural life and the cultural ecology in general, and thus the evolution of Sinophone film industry. The synergy of technological form (film and sound), art form (Cantonese opera and film) and content innovation (cross-cultural adaptation) that had been practiced by Hong Kong film predecessors marked a fascinating yet overlooked page in Hong Kong early film history.

Early Hong Kong Films Across the Pacific Ocean According to Fu Poshek (2003), once the films with better artistic quality produced by Shanghai major studios marginalized Hong Kong productions in the silent film era. But this Shanghai dominance faced a devastating challenge when Cantonese films started to thrive in the 1930s and soon were exported to overseas market: North America, Cuba, Mexico, Philippines, South Africa, Hawaii, Panama, Australia and even Madagascar (Law and Bren 2004, p.  211). Again, the technological factor played a role. When filming technology entered the sound-film age, language became an essential part in films as audible narration goes along with the plot development and other visual elements (e.g. faces of stars and costumes). Seeing this significant change, film companies, such as Tianyi from Shanghai and Grand View from America, joined the force to make films in a language that was shared by a colossal amount of population scattered around the world—Cantonese. 10   Related literatures include: Empire and Communication (1950) and The Bias of Communication (1951) by Harold Innis and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) and The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (1967) by Marshall McLuhan.



American Chinese and Grand View Film Company Long before Joseph Chiu established Grand View film company in Hong Kong, there was already a Cantonese art circle across the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco, where generations of immigrants from Cantonese-speaking regions came across the ocean for gold mining. Successfully finding a market niche—Cantonese film to cater the sizable Cantonese-speaking immigrant community, Joseph Chiu and Moon Kwan invested what they had learned from the Hollywood industry to the emerging Cantonese film prospect. In 1933, Chiu and Kwan started up the Grand View film company in San Francisco and produced their first film the Romance of Songsters/Gelu Qing Chao 歌侶情潮 (1933), the first Cantonese film produced in the United States. Similar to what Tianyi did, Chiu and Kwan invited popular Cantonese opera performers to take the leading roles in the film, making the film a fad second to none at that time among Cantonese migrant community. To rewind the clock, the founding of Grand View was actually because of a border-crossing trip made by Law Ming-yau (the manager in Shanghai Lianhua and assistant to Hong Kong film founding father Lai Man-wai) who went to San Francisco to promote Lianhua productions to American distributors. There, Law met Joseph Chiu. Through several kinship networks, Joseph Chiu agreed to build collaboration with Law. Meanwhile, spotting the promising future of Cantonese film production, Chiu in America raised the initial public offering and later formed the Grand View Film Company (大觀) in 1933. Taking into consideration the remarkably huge Cantonese-speaking population in Hong Kong, Macao, Southeast Asia and North America, their first film Romance of Songsters was filmed in Cantonese in 1933. The film featured Kwan Tat-­hing, a Cantonese opera martial performer (wu sheng 武生) who was in his staging tour in the United States when he was invited to shoot the film. Instead of filming a story in an Asian cultural background, this is regarded as the first American film portraying the lives of overseas Chinese migration (Law and Bren 2004, p. 74). After seeing phenomenal success of this film, instead of establishing the Lianhua (overseas) company as Law Ming-yau proposed to two American Chinese businessmen, Chiu and Kwan decided to establish their own Grand View in Hong Kong, with an envision to develop a prosperous Cantonese film business. Thanks to Moon Kwan’s long-time experience in



Hollywood and Chiu’s promising financial support, the Grand View Hong Kong was operated with filming equipment and studios in full-scale and at world-class standard. However, the significance of Grand View was later proved far beyond Chiu and Kwan’s original expectation. Japanese troops invaded Hong Kong Island in December 1941, and quickly took over the Kowloon area, where lots of film studios were located. The war caused a large-scale escape of cultural workers, leading the film industry to a halt. Joseph Chiu decided to move his film business and most importantly, film production back to the United States in order to sustain this inchoating industry. From 1941 to 1946, 21 black-and-white and 4 color 16 mm features were completed in San Francisco. This small number of film works, which were little out of ordinary melodrama features, later turned to out the only batch of Cantonese film productions when Hong Kong was under Japanese occupation (Fonoroff 1997, p.  47). These films were later transported back to Hong Kong and screened in theaters after the anti-Japanese war. These wartime film productions completed in a foreign land, under historical contingency, turned out leading to a revival of Cantonese film industry. Building Theaters on Foreign Lands The Cantonese cultural circle thrived with the visits of Cantonese opera troupes and the blossom of theaters established or managed by early Chinese migrants in San Francisco since the mid-nineteenth century. Leaving their hometown under the Qing Dynasty rule, thousands of laborers, mostly male, traveled to the west coast of North America to join the gold rush and later the building of Canada Pacific Railroad. Similar to those working and living in Southeast Asia, most of the migrant laborers in North America would like to re-encounter the leisure activities from their hometown—Guangdong province. Cantonese opera troupes were then invited to have touring stage performance in North America, as Bruce Lee’s father did, and with the advancement of film technologies and the popularity of filming Cantonese operatic sing-song films, Cantonese films were imported as well to meet the mass need. By 1920s, a relatively matured theater circle had already been built, staging famous actors and troupes as the jewelry of the crown to sustain business and therefore elevate prestige of the US touring opera performers. As a revolutionary act, in San Francisco, real women performers had



debut on stage and in Cantonese opera history (Law and Bren 2004, pp. 75–77). Migrant workers from south part of China were recruited to join the emerging sugarcane industry in North American east coast in mid-­ nineteenth century. While earlier migrant laborers resided in the West Coast, they were attracted to move to the east, also bringing with them their kinship-based organizations (tong xiang hui 同鄉會, an organizational form based on the birthplace of the Chinese emigrants). New York city soon saw a blossom of Sinophone migrant communities, along with the thriving of journals, broadcast stations and theaters run by these migrants. In the 1950s, two major theater businessmen were both from Cantonese-speaking regions: Frank Lee from San Francisco who later operated over 40 theaters in the United States and in Canada, and Tam from Guangzhou. In the 1950s and early 1960s, most of the Sinophone films shown in the United States were Cantonese films. They were mostly made in Hong Kong, where the industry was dominated by Cantonese pictures though production quality varied. As theater owners were important film distributors, they from time to time played a vital role in the pre-­ pay system in the Cantonese film industry (see “Cleaning-Up Movement and Pre-pay System” in Chap. 2). Noteworthy is that, in Hong Kong, the arrival of Shaw Brothers film company brought thunderous impact to the film industry. Since the mid-­ 1960s, films produced by Shaw Brothers showcased high-quality Eastman wide-screen colored pictures, which soon outshined Cantonese productions. It was also an important period that Shaw Brothers envisioned soon-to-come business expansion in North America. Against this backdrop, theater businessman in San Francisco, Frank Lee, established collaboration with Shaw Brothers film company. As part of the expansion project of Shaw Brothers, Run Run Shaw submitted grand productions to international film festivals and traveled to North America in order to seek screening opportunities for their Mandarin historical costume blockbuster films. At that time, Shaw Brother’s epic productions based on traditional Chinese folklores were regarded as the “sole representative of Hong Kong, Taiwan and China—an intriguing matter of fact that signifying the power of Shaw Brothers in film industry and in geopolitics” (Curry 2008, pp. 183–184). Shaw Brothers then took over some theaters in San Francisco (the Great Star) and in the New York city (the Shaw Brothers’ Music Palace Theater) to exclusively screen its



well-received epic historical Mandarin blockbusters and later Kung Fu legends. Noteworthy is that, due to Run Run Shaw’s right-leaning stance, which facilitated films from Shaw Brothers exported to Taiwan, some theaters in North America were under KMT’s sponsorship. The on-exile government by this means retained its bondage with the migrant population.11 Other theaters, which did not sign contract with Shaw Brothers, such as Sun Sing Theater, Canal Theatre, Pagoda Theatre and Rosemary Theatre, had to purchase film reels directly from film companies or distributors in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the 1960s and 1970s, in total, 1433 Hong Kong films were distributed and archived in the United States. Direct purchase of film rolls guaranteed the theaters “the right to distribute, exhibit, exploit, license, sell and otherwise dispose of the prints and accessories throughout the territory, for any royalty or license fee whatsoever” (Fan 2010, p. 110). “The audience missed their hometown. They came to the theatre and spent three hours viewing the familiar Chinese faces on silver screen” (Heffernan 2005, pp. 115–119). One of the popular and long-lived theaters in New York city was Sun Sing Theatre located at East Broadway. Established in early 1920s, it was originally for Yaddish cultural shows to serve a sizable Jewish emigrant community. In 1947, the theater was sold to a migrant, Tam, who was originated from Guangzhou. He exhibited films from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as staged Cantonese opera shows. Thanks to Tam’s close relation with Cantonese opera communities back in Guangzhou, he was able to sustain the long-time tradition of inviting Cantonese opera troops to have tour-staging. Having been purchased film prints throughout the 1960s and 1970s, as the film industry in Hong Kong dramatically changed to a theater-oriented system, which consisted of leading theaters (dragon head) and sub-theaters (ferry), Sun Sing had to adapt the new system accordingly. It soon became part of a ferry theater chain of Hong Kong’s leading distributor—Golden Princess, in order to stabilize film supply and to share the risk of box-office performance. At the same time, Sun Sing expanded its theater network form the United States to Canada and Sun Sing itself also became a “dragon head” theater. 11  The Great Star in San Francisco was sponsored by KMT. Interestingly, around the corner, its rival the CCP also ran a theater. Information from the Great Star non-profit corporation: http://www.greatstarsf.com/about/.



In the 1980s, the golden age of Hong Kong film industry, box-office wonders were also seen in the North America, with traditionally well-­ received genres such as street action, urban comedy and ghost films. Similar to those living in Hong Kong, the Chinese emigrants in North America celebrated Christmas and Chinese New Year and love going to theaters with families during these holidays, thus a holiday golden period for film industry was given birth. However, different from the prosperous growing of Hong Kong film industry, which was a response to the skyrocketing economy and enlarging middle class in the 1980s, the situation in the United States and particularly in the New York city developed to a reverse direction. As middle-class residents started to move to suburban areas, less and less previous cinema lovers remained in the city who only dropped by occasionally. Except for audience from Sinophone communities, those who frequently visited theaters were for time killing. In strong contrast to the improving facilities in Hong Kong’s theater industry, Sun Sing and other theaters remained in poor condition which was regarded as a provider of cheap entertainment (Fan 2010). The prosperity of theaters run by Cantonese migrants in the New York city had its downturn since 1980s, following the advancement of family video devices. Similar to the situation in Hong Kong, the skyrocketing real estate business led to demolishing of old buildings, including theaters, to give way to the forest of skyrockets. 91 Bowery, New York City, a space, which is now a glass-walled shopping center, once was the home to the aforementioned “Music Palace”.12 Masked under its plain façade was a major theater in the New York City that exhibited films imported from Hong Kong and was a hub of communal life at the Chinatown. However, the theater was demolished in 2014, being one but only member among the extinction of Chinese theater business in America. Hong Kong Film in Oceania Across the Indian Ocean from Hong Kong, Australia once imported large number of Hong Kong films. The migration community in Australia, similar to the situation in the United States, was derived from the history of cheap labor migration. Since the nineteenth century, Cantonese opera-­ 12  A documentary about this theater was made by Eric Lin, 2005, Music Palace, IMDb, access via https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0810428/.



performing troupes already stepped on the land called Melbourne, where migrant laborers joined the gold rush. Though smaller in size compared to the Canton migrant population in Southeast Asia and in North America, Australia did make a promising film market to strategic businessmen. Always being the pioneer, Shaw Brothers founded its up-to-scale distribution company in Australia in 1963, which became the first Sinophone film distributor in the continent. The epic productions from Shaw Brothers were then directly exported to this new market. Following this, martial films also landed in the market, though being labeled as over-violent. Despite the large Sinophone migrant community in Australia, Hong Kong films were often regarded an alternative—a sensual exoticism and minority artistic enjoyment than a mainstream hit. It was until Golden Harvest Bruce Lee series raged in the Oceanian continent that Australian mass audience was attracted by Hong Kong films. In 1975, Golden Harvest collaborated with Australian B.E.F. film company and produced The Man from Hong Kong/Zhidao Huanglong 直搗黃龍 (1975). Since then, theaters exclusively playing Hong Kong films and other Sinophone films were established in Sydney and other big Australian cities. In the 1990s, more films were under Hong Kong-Australia collaboration. Some scenes from Jackie Chan’s police story series and Mr. Nice Guy/Yige Haoren 一個好人 (1997) were shot in Australia. Different from the situation in the United States (which will be elaborated soon), besides Kung Fu films, which mostly appealed to audience with breathtaking visual-sonic impact, a larger variety of eye-opening genres were introduced to the Australian market. In 1998, the first Hong Kong Film Festival in Australia was presented by Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office and Australian Film Institute. Held in Sydney and Melbourne, the festival featured Wong Kar-Wai’s Ashes of Time, Fruit Chan’s Made in Hong Kong and some other non-Kung Fu films (Bren 2000). Kung Fu Mania in North America The inception of American people’s passion about Kung Fu was never out of blue. Warner Brothers was the earliest American film company that showed interest in importing Kung Fu films, mainly from Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong. Before the King Boxer/Tianxia Diyi Quan 天下第一拳 (1972), Warner already spotted the potential of Kung Fu elements in the market and launched a series of TV episodes on Kung Fu theme.



It is noteworthy that, since 1960s, Asian-style martial arts as muscle training already became a trendy leisure in the United States, with a blossom of martial art shows and training schools, among which Bruce Lee also opened his own training school. This provided the base for further diffusion of Kung Fu culture. In the 1960s, Shaw Brothers started to play a pioneer role producing high-quality Kung Fu pictures (refer to Chap. 1, “Giants from Southeast Asia”). Shaw Brothers’ Mandarin blockbusters featuring north and south Kung Fu camps, along with other smaller-scale productions by that time already had accumulated a huge stock of made-in-Hong Kong film productions ready to be exported to meet the American market need. Learning that Kung Fu was a lucrative business, Warner Brothers and Shaw Brothers even co-produced films to savor the market more selling points, such as the east-west fusion blockbuster Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold/Nujingang dou Kuanglongnu 女金剛鬥狂龍女 (1975). It was a fusion of Kung Fu and Blaxploitation (a genre particularly made to attract black audience) (see Bordwell 2000, chapter 3). For a period of time in 1973, to many people’s surprises, the top three hit films in the United States were all Hong Kong productions. It marks a historical week in American film industry that for the first time top three films were all foreign productions. It is not difficult to imagine that genre of martial arts and especially Kung Fu fighting is among the few film genres that travel beyond the boundaries of territory, language and sociocultural backgrounds. These three films were The Big Boss/Tangshan Daxiong 唐山大兄 starring Bruce Lee by Golden Harvest, the King Boxer/ Tianxia Diyi Quan 天下第一拳 and Hap Ki Do/He Qi Dao (合氣道) by Shaw Brothers. Though the ranking of box-office revenue varied in the following weeks, these three Kung Fu films were among the top 20. Following these significant three works, four more Hong Kong Kung Fu films also entered the top 20 (Desser 2000). Throughout 1973, there were in total 38 Hong Kong Kung Fu films purchased by American distributors and grossed 11 million dollars by the end of 1974 (see Bordwell 2000, chapter 4). Bruce Lee pushed this Kung Fu mania to the climax and in the following decades, Kung Fu stars such as Jackie Chan and Kung Fu film professionals such as Sammo Hung constantly stirred the market with non-stop invention of new Kung Fu choreography. Rumble in the Bronx/Hongfanqu 紅番區 (1995) starring Jackie Chan was another semi-climax after Bruce Lee, accumulating box office 32 million dollars.



This Kung Fu mania in non-Sinophone countries inevitably had its ebbs and flows, but this made-in-Hong Kong Sinophone visual and audio fad has already kicked open the gate to international industry for many more film talents from Hong Kong following Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan: John Woo, Ringo Lam (林嶺東), Tsui Hark (徐克), Stanley Tong and Chow Yun-fat. Kung Fu and Nationalism For the American society, the increasing contact with Eastern culture through wars in Asian territory and Asian migration facilitated the spread of Kung Fu. But it is hard to say that the majority of American audience are fans of Kung Fu. Actually, the major market of Kung Fu films was a considerable group of ethnic minorities—African Americans. Kung Fu films were usually screened in downtown theaters near black communities or tailor-made for mobile theaters, along with other Blaxploitation films. Audiences of Asian, African and Hispanic kept this genre alive. The reason behind African American’s enthusiasm in Kung Fu, according to Desser (2000), was the fact that there were seldom White heroes/ heroines in the films, and the colored-fighter strived to defeat the strong powers (Japanese invaders and White Americans). In this light, Kung Fu films, as a visual language (although already dubbed in English version) uncovered the sources to echo the pan-Africanist and black internationalism. Since the inception of film business in Shanghai and in Hong Kong, action film genre has been an all-time attraction, based on folklores, fables and grassroot figures. Wong Fei-hung (黃飛鴻), a Cantonese figure of grassroot Chinese medical herbalist and Kung Fu expert, started to gain fame since the 1940s and has been featured in over 100 films. Films of Wong Fei-hung for over decades until the late 1980s had starred the longlived actor Kwan Tat-hing (who was also a well-known Cantonese opera ­performer). Kwan, in 1933, had his debut in Cantonese movie when he took the leading role in Grand View’s first Cantonese picture Romance of Songsters. Since 1960s, Wong Fei-hung series hit the overseas market (audience were mostly Cantonese-speaking), as a result generating a primitive mode of transnational Sinophone nationalism, which was anchored in a Cantonese-speaking grassroot hero from Guangdong. This Wong Fei-­hung series gained a new life in the 1990s as Tsui Hark filmed the Once upon a Time/Huang Feihong 黃飛鴻 (1991), featuring a young



Mandarin-­speaking martial art star from mainland China—Jet Li (李連傑), and the film was then widely distributed to North America and Europe. Sequels were produced in following years to continue the international distribution of Wong Fei-hung. In the film, Wong Fei-hung walked out from his village and fought for the country in the face of Anglo-Saxon invaders. Similar to Bruce Lee series, appearance of White faces in Kung Fu films projected the nationalistic binary that anchored in east versus west conflict. From Kwan to Li, Wong Fei-hung as an iconic grassroot hero was constantly injected with new elements to become a more perfect “Chinese” in a certain period of time—as Wong’s role was situated across dynasties and republic eras. More precisely, Wong Fei-hung served a Sinophone model that he showed boundless righteousness and empathy to his in-group communities—ranged from his Kung Fu school, the street neighborhood, the Cantonese-speaking region to the people of Qing Dynasty, and he endeavored to protect his own communities from attacks from external powers—no matter the power is a thug from neighbor village or from a foreign country. By this end, the long-lived heroic image of Wong Fei-­ hung had reached beyond filmic language but interestingly symbolized an alternative Sinophone reference: the resilience and vicissitudes of Sinophone hetero-glossier. From Wong Fei-hung to Bruce Lee, resistance from the inferior and national pride were long-existing themes. The experience of the Chinese heroes in the films is commensurate to the racial discrimination and degradation of the African ethnic identity. The nationalism—an imaginary restoration of Chinese traditional culture in the pursuit of contemporary modernity reflected mostly from Bruce Lee’s film stories (Li 2001; Desser 2005), inspired the idealism that “the world’s darker races, a term they employed to describe the non-European world, shared a common interest in overthrowing white supremacy and creating an international order based on racial equality” (Sundiata 2008, p. 201). After the death of Bruce Lee, his icon and cultural impact perpetuates, not only in Hong Kong, but also in the North America, such as The Bruce Lee Story (1993) by Universal Pictures and the Kill Bill series (2003 and 2004), which makes a crux of Kung Fu, samurai and spaghetti western genres and epitomizes its tribute to Bruce Lee through the iconic black-and-yellow theme-color dress. Traces of Hong Kong style action genre in other Hollywood blockbusters also could be found in The Matrix series in which Kung Fu fighting and John Woo style of urban noir heroism.



In the same vein, Hong Kong Kung Fu films enjoy phenomenal popularity in Africa, in particular in South Africa, as a result of the joint effect of state censorship and state monopolies over film distribution. In the context of apartheid, Hollywood films dominated the market due to the policy that favored the white supremacy. Films from other regions were under strict censorship. But it is also because of the harsh situation that people sought to alternatives. Hong Kong Kung Fu films started to gain popularity through screening in independent theaters and VHS distribution, though mostly underground channels—a space for critical public engagement. It was in the 1970s. The importation of films was mainly handled by Chinese emigrants. Similar to the situation in the United States, not only due to the stunning and entertaining visual enjoyment from Kung Fu films, the spirit of anti-repression and anti-white-supremacy narratives triggered the sense of empathy among the black audience in Africa (Staden 2016). What will be elaborated more in the following parts is that, since the 1950s, Hong Kong film industry started to assimilate film talents from other East Asian countries, mainly for further improving film productions in historical epic and action genres. If the co-productions with the American industry and talent assimilation from East Asia constituted part of the backbone of Hong Kong action films, the minor economy from direct-to-video industry and the mentioned independent cinema was the spill-over effect of Kung Fu culture derived from Hong Kong to the world ethnic minorities. In terms of film business, Kung Fu genre exemplifies a successful story that produces a lucrative film language transcending national borders: widely well received and easy to duplicate. Interestingly, from the mid-1980s, with the rapid spread of home video devices and disk duplication business, Kung Fu films flourished across the world. Western stars who had Kung Fu expertise or experience in making action films (usually in Hong Kong), largely participated in an alternative type of action films in non-Sinophone-speaking territories. Instead of striving to gain global fame or win film awards, these films were circulated in an alternative channel. The filming team usually contained an American director, Israeli producer, a crew from Asia and financial resource from Luxembourg. These films were quickly made and distributed only through video disk circulation, in  local stores instead of commercial theaters (Morris 2004). Little known to today’s mass audience was this non-­ mainstream group of sub-culture-like products that presented yet another intriguing case of the border-crossing Hong Kong popular culture.



Asiatic Adventure of Hong Kong Film Shaw: A Legend Family Began from Shaw Zuiweng (usually called C. W. Shaw) and later effervescently developed by his brothers, Shaw family’ entertainment industry started from 1922. Originated from Ningbo and commenced their business journey in Shanghai, C. W. Shaw first leased a small theater (called Xiao Theater, literally means theater of laughters, 笑舞台) to stage an emerging popular culture—“civilized dramas” in Shanghai. As mentioned, derived from Western drama arts, civilized dramas were well received among a growing group of intellectual youths in the new-born republican state at that time. In 1925, discovering the huge potential of cinema business, C.  W. Shaw gradually turned the Xiao Theater into a film theater and also founded the Tianyi Film Company. Similar to the business pattern taken by Hong Kong counterparts the Lai brothers, Shaw family in Shanghai implied a vertical business model: producing films with castings derived from their own theater play troupes, and film exhibition in their own theater. Due to C. W.’s younger brother, Shaw Cunren’s, prudent accounting, Tianyi was operated in a more economical way than its competitors. In the Tianyi film company, Shaw family brothers had rigorous division of labor in production, accounting, distribution and exhibition, in different maritime cities, under the central supervision by C. W. Shaw. Conservative and paternalistic, the Shaw family entertainment empire, from the early age of the business, had exhibited high efficiency with low cost. Tianyi was then developed into one of the leading film production firms in Shanghai. In the later years, sons of the family were sent to different places to expand the entertainment business. From Shanghai, the Shaw family’s entertainment empire laid their founding stone, and through southbound adventures, their business empire later grew into a regional and international Sinophone cultural beacon. As early as 1920s, among the four Shaw brothers, Run Run Shaw and Runmei Shaw were sent to Southeast Asia, the Malaya and Singapore to explore possible distribution networks for Tianyi’s increasing volume of film productions. At that time, the major cinema business there was in the hands of migrations from South China, divided into different cultural circles according to their mother-tongue such as Cantonese,



Teochew and Hakka. The two brothers from Shanghai sought opportunities in smaller cities. Village by village, they did mobile screenings while at the same time did market research and sought potential collaborators. With assistance from some prominent figures who were also Chinese emigrants, in 1927, they settled down in Malaya, leasing theaters to exclusively screen Tianyi productions. They also founded a distribution company to further the business network. In 1940, they opened their first overseas studio in Singapore and started to make Malay-language films starring Malay Cantonese opera superstars (Yu 1997a, p. 25). From the mid-1930s and 1940s, the Shaw brothers bought amusement parks from Chinese Malayans. By that time, the Southeast Asian entertainment business founded by Run Run and Runmei was constituted with a sizable theater chain (allied with over 100 cinemas) and two amusement parks. Without doubt, they had laid the foundation stone for Tianyi’s further development in overseas market (Chung 2003, 2011b). This network was even extended to Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesian Java with over a 100 theaters and 10 amusement parks. As early as the 1930s, the inception of Shaw family’s ambition of regionalization could already be spotted. In the 1930s, when C. W. Shaw wittedly spotted the up-and-coming prospects of Cantonese cultural products and invited the popular opera actor Sit Kok-sin to act the leading role in their first Cantonese film (sound film), the Shaw brothers’ worldwide film empire already showed a glimpse of nascence. White Gold Dragon, filmed in 1933, brought to Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macao and Southeast Asia so thunderous impact that C. W. Shaw decided to build his own film studio in Hong Kong, the center of filmmaking second to Shanghai. Another reason of the moving, according to Stephen Teo (1997), was inevitably political. Prolific production of Tianyi were folklore-based fantasies in themes of superstition, which were regarded as “morally decadent” by the elite circle and the Nanjing government; while these highly commercial films were extremely popular among Cantonese-speaking communities. Having learned the huge potential market of Cantonese talkies, Shaw brothers established their own film studio in Hong Kong with the name Nanyang. In the Sino-Japanese war when Shanghai was under occupation, Tianyi’s business was devastatingly interrupted while the Hong Kong branch thrived to a leading company in the territory thanks to their distribution network established in the pre-war era in Southeast Asia. After the war, facing the rise of strong competitors, especially the theater tycoon MP&GI, Run Run Shaw, who used to take charge of the



Southeast Asian business, was appointed to move back to Hong Kong to revive the family’s shrinking filming business. In that time, it was Run Run Shaw’s brother Runmei Shaw who supervised the film company in Hong Kong—Shaw and Sons. In the prolonged post-war era, film production was clogged in Hong Kong’s thriving film industry, which also witnessed the equally prosperous Mandarin and Cantonese film production. When Run Run arrived in Hong Kong in 1957, he purchased a huge land in Clear Water Bay (Image 3.1) to establish a studio and started to launch the Shaw Brothers film company. Different from the traditional

Image 3.1  Clear Water Bay Film Studio of Shaw Brothers. Film Studio A is the largest building of the Clear Water Bay Film Studio in Hang Hau of Sai Kung in 1964. Courtesy to Special Collections, University of Hong Kong Libraries



Tianyi practice, Run Run focused on both the quality and efficiency of film production by recruiting versatile talents to look over different functional sectors and introducing a centralized streamline-based production system. By that time, the entertainment network constituted of cinema chains, amusement parks and cabaret had reached to a wide range of territories from Hong Kong to countries dotted in the south sea, with a full blossom of film business: cross-regional distribution, cross-genre, cross-­ language (including Hokkien and Teochew language). Even under the shadow of Cold War, the prosperity of Shaw family’s business had ceaselessly revealed the process of regionalization and even globalization (Yung 2008). Diasporic Imagination and Hong Kong Film In Shih Shu-mei’s Sinophone studies approach (2013a), she challenges the discourse of “Chinese diaspora” which insinuates a central-plain lens in viewing the globally expanded heterogeneous Sinic language-speaking population while ignoring the kaleidoscopic development of over a century’s migrant population who have already gone through a wide array of localization with different cultures. The term “diaspora”, in this perspective, denotes a “China-center-ness”, which, though, arbitrarily simplifies the political and cultural complexities embedded. In the following discussion, however, “diaspora” is what had been embraced by film companies, especially the Shaw Brothers, the central-plain-lens visualization of “Chineseness” (Shih 2013b). As illustrated in Chap. 2, Shaw Brother’s gleaming wide-screen color production featuring traditional folklores, which were originated from Southeast end region of Yangtze River, swarmed the market. It is said that Shaw Brothers was epitomized with its “China nostalgia” hallmark: during a long period, the so-called pan-Chinese population, which included overseas migrants and Han-ethnic population in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, were segregated with the mainland “motherland culture”, and they embraced deep-seated homesick, a nostalgic thirst of the “cultural root” (Fu 2011).13 In the Clear Water Bay studio, a fictitious “China” was 13  Prevailing in Southeast Asian countries in the 1950s–1960s were anti-Chinese movements: Indonesian government refused to bestow citizenship to Chinese, Singapore established English as the official language while suppressing Chinese civil culture and vesting high importation tax on Chinese cultural products.



fabricated with pavilions and palace, fairy maidens and heroes, as well as a series of Ming-Qing Dynasty features. Apart from feature films, action movies, in particular knight and sword fights, constructed an imaginary “China”: surreal but romantic, stunning but poetic, stories of heroes and beauties were full of enthusiasm and heart-broken sensual narrations immersed in a banal world of disarray. Situated in a Han-ethnic Hong Kong while separated from the Han-origin central-plain culture—which is regarded the origin of orthodox Chinese culture and intelligential—Shaw Brothers fashioned a “new Chinese tradition” through its new Kung Fu genre to re-illustrate a “China on the screen” (Sek Kei 2003) while putting transition of rulers and state-regimes aside. It is argued that the core value of Shaw Brothers’ production is neither a purely “mainland China” nor “Hong Kong”, but the pursuit of a so-­ called pan-Sino identity: apolitical and polysemic yet enchanting and entertaining. By saying polysemic, it is said that the visual “China” was actually a Sinophone reference through which Sinic-language population across the world invested their own version of “motherland” and “China nostalgia” to the wide range of represented filmic objects (e.g. architectures and costumes). Among various genres of films, films of Huangmei Diao (黃梅調) made the Shaw hallmark. Originating from central China (Huangmei county in Hubei Province) and gaining popularity in Shanghai later, Huangmei Diao was incorporated into film production: realistic filming techniques on top of classical tunes and performance, similar to Broadway classical musical theater. Stories, scripts and figures frequently appearing in Huangmei Diao films included hero/emperor and civilians, wars, emperors and empress, as well as pastoral life in tranquil a hidden world, coupled with series of props and backdrops to symbolically project an ideal “China”. On the one hand, these films cater to the multi-version nostalgic “China dream” among overseas migrants. On the other hand, film, as an artistic form, bears the ideals and emotions of the director—a group of south bound intellectual filmmakers in Shaw Brothers who embrace the laments over the destructed motherland and the mission to resurrect the Chinese cultural root (Chen 2003). Instead of vesting political allusion, films of Shaw Brothers mainly appeal to commercial values through projecting cultural imagery illusion that crosses borders and time, catering to a tremendous size of Sinophone communities out of the CCP-seized mainland China. The strategy and vision of Shaw Brothers, by all means, made it the leading film company and business mogul throughout the 1960s. It is only in Hong Kong and



in the historical contingency when serious restrictions permeate the industry and market in PRC and KMT Taiwan that the “Chinese” films (in terms of filming artistry, language and target audience) of Shaw Brothers could anchor their business on the wide-spread overseas migrant communities and gain phenomenal success without the mainland market. Though being a family-run and centralized business, the Shaw brothers had cultivated a strong sensitivity to the changing environment and market demand, after having experienced ebbs and flows in different colonial societies such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaya. The early success of Tianyi was due to the mass production of Cantonese talkies to cater the large number of emigrants originated from South China. During that period of time, film genres were mostly folklores-based fantasies, produced with high efficiency but average quality. But after the Sino-Japan war, along with the upheavals in mainland China, escape of KMT government, then followed by the closure of CCP-led mainland market and the increasingly complicated demographic composition of Sinophone population in Southeast Asia (influx of Mandarin-Chinese-speaking intellectuals and businessmen after the Sino-Japan war instead of the early grassroot hard labors), Shaw Brothers transformed the business model and produced high-quality Mandarin films at a large scale. To a certain extent, Shaw Brothers had played an essential role as a bridge and a “cultural passport” which concretized and consolidated the bondage among Han-ethnic population around the world. Hong Kong and Nanyang: Filmic Imagination and Industrial Networks Hong Kong historian Elizabeth Sinn once commented, “Hong Kong is a window to the world for China, as well as one for the world to look into China. In Hong Kong, the Chinese, the foreign, the new, the old, the orthodox, and the unorthodox are mixed in a melting pot, with various contradictions acting as a catalyst, out of which arises a pluralistic, fluid, exuberant cultural uniqueness” (1995, p.iv). Nanyang, literally meaning ocean at the south, to many people in Hong Kong, Macao and Guangdong, generally refers to Southeast Asian regions such as Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia and so on. This is a region held considerable number of Sinophone migration clusters. Though Nanyang throughout the nineteenth-twentieth centuries had experienced radical political transitions, this topic is far beyond the focus of this book. Therefore,



Nanyang is more a geographical reference than mapping of state formation. If the central-plain culture and Southeast end of Yangtze River mirror the “motherland” and “cultural root” Chinese culture in the views of a large group of southbound intellectuals before and after the WWII, Nanyang, to a large extent, was connected with south China and formed a pan-southChina imagination constituting populations of Cantonese, Hokkein, Teochew and Hakka. Due to natural disasters, feudalist exploitation from landlords and constant social-order disruption caused by thugs and robberies, population from two major south Chinese provinces, Fujian and Guangdong, sought better life in foreign lands. According to studies, by 1970, there were already a considerable proportion of Sino-populations in Southeast Asian countries. And these migrants considerably transformed the linguistic scape of the host countries, leading to the formation and expansion of a pan-Sinitic-language sphere in Nanyang (Table 3.4). On the one hand, all under the British colonial rule, the cultural experience (south China-origin cultural practice and colonial memory) among Sino-population in Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore and Malaya was shared in common. On the other hand, while it was a fashion in the 1950s that Hong Kong film stars went overseas for film shooting on location, Nanyang cities were exhibited in a sensual foreign style. In the 1950s, a series of films were shot in Nanyang featuring a wide range of stories about the kinship or Table 3.4  Population of Sino-population in Southeast Asia in 1970 Country

Percentage of Sino-population

Brunei Burma Cambodia Indonesia Laos West Malaysia (Malaya peninsular) East Malaysia (Sarawak and Sabah) Philippines East Timor Singapore Thailand North Vietnam South Vietnam

27.6% 1.6% 6.4% 2.6% 2% 36.1% 28.1% 1.4% 1% 74.5% 10% 1% 5.5%

Source: Mary F. Somers Heidhues, Southeast Asia’s Chinese minorities, p. 3, Longman, Victoria Australia Cited in Lee EH, 2003, History of Southeast Asian Chinese 東南亞華人史, p. 7, Wunan Publisher, Taiwan



romantic connection between people from other Sinophone-­ speaking regions (e.g. the post-war China, Hong Kong and Macao) and Nanyang.14 After over a century’s efforts, previous migrant workers had accumulated wealth and gained decent social-economic status. The diversified demographic migration population, businessman, educator and also grassroot workers, had enriched the filmic representation of this group of population (Law 1992). This group of films, widely circulated in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, was created by talented Hong Kong filmmakers and performed by equally charming Hong Kong stars. The faces of a group of superstars Patrick Tse Yin, Ka Ling, Kong Suet and a lot more were embedded in minds of generations of overseas Sinophone residents. Argued by Mak (2006) is that the co-constructed imagined community of “Chinese” was full of replacement and displacement. Media scholar Ng Ho (1992) discussed that, despite the bloody migration history of cheap laborers who were sold to Nanyang since the nineteenth century, the Nanyang films instead showcased arresting lifestyles of tranquility, vibrancy and urbanism while the “hardship” images of migrant laborers were overlooked. First of all, the three film moguls in Hong Kong in the 1950s were all south-China-origin businessmen settled down in Southeast Asia: Kong Ngee, MP&GI and Shaw Brothers, who had established their solid business empire in Nanyang. When the series of Nanyang-related films were shot on location, superior lifestyle and images of benevolent overseas migrants were shown: they were either successful businessmen at the backdrop of modern urban scenic Singapore or hard-working employees who were eventually ascended to final applause. Second, after the early generation of migrant workers started to take root in Nanyang countries, they unified with other Sino-population through sustaining Han-culture education, kinship and business ties—the founding of a particular overseas “Chinese identity” politically differentiated from the Chinese government (CCP or KMT-China), while they 14  Grand View: Malaya Love Affair/Malaiya Zhilian 馬來亞之戀 (1954); Cathay: Romance in Singapore/Xingzhou Yanji 星洲艷跡 (1956), The Old Man from Southeast Asia/Nanyang Yabo 南洋亞伯 (1958); Kong Ngee: Blood Saints the Valley of Love/Xueran Xiangsigu 血染 相思谷, She Married an Overseas Chinese/Tangshan Asao 唐山阿嫂, The Whispering Palms/ Yelinyue 椰林月—all in 1957; Shaw Brothers: The Merdeka Bridge/Duliqiao Zhilian 獨立橋 之戀, When Durians Bloom/Liulian Piaoxiang 榴蓮飄香, Bride from Another Town/Guobu Xinniang 過埠新娘—all in 1959. Besides these large studios, other companies also followed this trend, such as Wing Wah film company produced the Amoy language film Love of Malaya/Malaiya Zhilian 馬來亞之戀 in 1959.



integrated with the local society (e.g. the hybridized language use and culinary culture). It implies a process from identity displacement to replacement. Third, the connection between Hong Kong-Nanyang also epitomized on the human relationship in films. While films seldom tell the stories about non-Sinic Nanyang native people (e.g. Ethnic Indians, Malayans), they tended to only shed lights on Tong Shan Yan (Tangshan ren, 唐山 人)—people from the land later called “China”. The tropical natural scenes and modern urbanity in the Southeast Asia played the role simply as a spectacle to be gazed. In particular, the Tong Shan Yan portrayed in the films were mostly from Hong Kong and Macao, representing a sense of supremacy as stars were usually personified as educators, investors or charity donors. It is understood that, to filmmakers and audience, the imagined “Nanyang-Tong Shan connection” more or less rested on the human connection between Hong Kong/Macao and those residing in Nanyang. Situated in the similar geo-political ambivalence (colonial rule and turbulence in two Chinese governments), people in Hong Kong, Macao, Malaya and Singapore somewhat embraced the similar issue of identity ambivalence and identity seeking (Teo 2006). From the 1950s, this physical (through kinship and business ties) and mental connections and filmic reflections of Nanyang-Hong Kong tales of twin regions were concretized in full blossom. Hong Kong and Dongyang: Filmic Connections of Japan As counterpart to Nanyang, Dongyang (literally means ocean at the east 東洋) mirrors the region east to the China land, in particular referring to Japan. Besides mirroring Sinophone migrant populations in Nanyang countries, MP&GI as an industrial leader curated a striking breakthrough series: “Hong Kong” trilogy series in cooperation with Japanese Toho company against the backdrop of Cold War. The series included: A Night in Hong Kong/ Xianggang zhi ye 香港之夜 (1961), Star of Hong Kong/Xianggang zhi xing 香港之星(1962) and Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong/Xianggang Dongjing Xiaweiyi 香港.東京.夏威夷 (1963). The sensual and picturesque titles already suggested the inter-territorial imaginations and cross-cultural references that anchored Hong Kong at the heart of an East Asian cultural allegory. In the context of Cold War with the duel between the United States and the Soviet Union power camps, Hong Kong had also been turned



into a battlefield of different ideologies. Different from what the British colonial government had practiced in other Southeast Asian cities (e.g. eradication of communist forces in Malaya), the government made acquiescence in Hong Kong to allow cultural products from different camps continue to thrive in this special tiny point where geo-political dynamics intertwined. To the UK government, Hong Kong was the watch tower of CCP-seized China. Since the disruption of Hong Kong-CCP-­ China connection since 1952, the peak of Korean War, Hong Kong film lost its previous CCP-backed venture and market in the mainland, while starting to receive funding from the Southeast Asia and from Dongyang, the countries under protection of the United States. Therefore, having chosen to stand at a side, the film tycoons from Southeast Asia, Shaw Brothers, MP&GI and Kong Ngee belonged to the right camp, the camp of “freedom China” and “anti-communist”. In the mentioned Hong Kong trilogy, Mak (2009) argued that only by situating the films back to the Cold War context we could grasp the inner texture and emotion of the stories and the ideologies conveyed—the fables of Hong Kong’s destiny. In the trilogy, the commonly seen thematic thread included the loss of mother of the heroines, the process of identity search and eventually the anchoring of the identity in Hong Kong instead of China, Japan or Hawaii. These personal stories transparently imply the geo-political status of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong film industry. The latter, after losing its “Chinese mother”, very soon gained its revived status with assistance from the right camp—the US superpower and other “freedom world” members. Apart from this Hong Kong-Japan remarkable collaborative series, theaters in Hong Kong and Taiwan also imported a large number of Japanese films during the post-war era. In order to expand the Asian market and to wipe off the war memory, Japan launched the Southeast Asian Film Festival with members from a range of countries/regions, which were either colony/former colony or were under the umbrella of the United States (Yau 2010), such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaya, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia and so on—the so-called free world. Notably, these places were also the frequent locations chosen for overseas film shooting among Hong Kong filmmakers in the post-war era, especially when CCP-control China was mostly shut down doors for cultural exchange amid the non-ceasing political chaos for decades. Specifically, the connection between Hong Kong film industry and Japanese counterparts started from the 1950s, through various forms such



as genre adaptation, film co-production, human resource exchange and outdoor location shooting. The aforementioned film tycoon S. K. Chang and his Hsin Hua film company was the pioneer establishing this East Asian industrial collaboration, though intriguingly the collaborative journey was commenced against the backdrop of the Sino-Japanese war. When Shanghai was under seizure of Japanese occupation, S. K. Chang remained in the concession. It was understood that he had no alternative choice but negotiating with Japanese officials who took charge of the film industry in the occupied region (more about S. K. Chang, see Chap. 2), where he met Kawakita Nagamasa, a Japanese film department official. In the Japanese-occupied zone, the “Chinese United Picture”/ Zhong Lian was founded under the control of Wang Jingwei 汪精衛, which resulted from merging the 12 existing film companies in Shanghai. Soon after, S. K. Chang’s Shanghai cinema company, the “Chinese United Picture” and Nagamasa’s “Chinese Film Company” were further conglomerated into a bigger “China Film United”/ Hua Ying. Though after the war, controversies and harsh criticism were relentlessly exerted on film production business under such war period and S. K. Chang was doubtlessly labeled committed treason on his own country, film productions under this system in these years receive increasing attention in terms of the artisan contribution and esthetic innovation. More than a hundred pictures were produced by “Zhong Lian” and “Hua Ying” during the Japanese occupation era (Lin 2014). Despite under fervent controversy, Chang and Nagamasa had established solid friendship during their filmic collaboration in the wartime. To Chang, Nagamasa was more a virtuoso filmmaker than a Japanese official. In 1955, Chang met Kawakita Nagamasa again and kicked off their post-­ war half-century filmic cooperation. At that time, Kawakita Nagamasa already took charge of Toho film company in Japan, the pioneer national film companies in the country. In 1955, their first cooperation was actualized in the film Tokyo Interlude/Yingdu Yanji 櫻都艷跡 (1955), shot with a supporting team from Japan including art director, production consultation and technology consultation. Part of the film was shot in Japan assisted by Toho. Following this first attempt, six more co-produced films were launched. Some other smaller scale of Hong Kong-Japan cultural exchange took place in the post-war era as well. In the mid-1950s, Japanese style sing-­



song troupe performance (characterized by its erotic and sexual appearance) gained wide popularity in Hong Kong, partially due to the Cold War geo-politics that encouraged more coalition among right-camp regions/ countries. In 1956, some small film companies in Hong Kong invited Japanese sing-song troupes to participate in film shooting, mostly in sing-­ song genre/musicals. Some of them were shot in Hong Kong while some even went overseas to follow the steps of the troupes in Ginza and Asakusa (Yu 1997c, p. 69). In the realm of film viewership, in Hong Kong, Japanese films enjoyed a golden age in the 1950s, when master pieces by Akira Kurosawa (黑澤 明) and Kenji Mizoguchi (溝口健二) were screened to Hong Kong audience. Another stream of film genres well received in Hong Kong was the series of B-grade productions in monster and ghost fantasies genres, soft-­ porn and horror, dubbed in Cantonese (Law and Bren 2004, p. 204). Seeing the popularity of Japanese films, the predecessor of Shaw Brothers, Shaw and Sons film company operated by Runde Shaw, took a bold step by inviting Japanese stars to participate in Hong Kong films. He brought in popular Japanese actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi (山口淑子, aka Li Xianglan 李香蘭) to take the lead in Chin Ping Mei/Jinpingmei 金瓶梅 (1955), Madam White Snake/Baishe Zhuan 白蛇傳 (1956) (co-­production by Shaw and Sons and Toho) and The Lady of Mystry/Shenmi Meiren 神秘 美人 (1957). Noteworthy is that, the latter two productions were both directed by Japanese film talents. The Madam White Snake even marked a milestone as being the first color film with special effects in Japan and won a technology prize in the Berlin Film Festival. The special effects of this film were carried out by the Japanese founding father of special effect— Tsuburaya Eiji (圓谷英二). When Run Run Shaw took over the film company and renamed it Shaw Brothers, closer cooperation with Japan was further promoted. More than ten films were shot in Japan, including costume films and fashion films, most of which also featured Japanese film stars. Instead of “getting a sensual exoticism” as previous filmmakers did, filmmakers from Shaw Brothers aimed at learning from Japanese film industry. Besides going to Japan to learn from them, Shaw Brothers also hired Japanese film talents (e.g. more than 30 directors) to Hong Kong, including Inōe Umetsugu—a productive director capable to produce a large variety of genres, Ko Nakahira (中平康)—an avant-garde artist, Tadashi Nishimoto—a pioneer in color-filming and photographed the successful Love Eterne (1963). This wave of “learning from Japan” by Shaw Brothers



also included field trip to Japan and establishing a special distribution agency in Japan. Since 1960s, popular actresses of Shaw Brothers were already sent to Japan for training in performing arts. Throughout the 1950s and 1970s, Japanese filmmakers were involved in almost all the sectors of film production in Shaw Brothers. This large number of Japanese film professionals constituted a vital part of Shaw Brother’s strategy to advance filming technologies and heighten international status (Yau 2003a,b; Davis and Yeh 2003; Law and Bren 2004, pp. 223–224, Yau 2010). Following the steps of Shaw Brothers, after Raymond Chow left Shaw Brothers and started the Golden Harvest, which introduced to the industry a more flexible independent film production mode, he continued the Hong Kong-Japan collaboration legacy. Tadashi Nishimoto was invited to photograph in Golden Harvest’s Bruce Lee Kung Fu films and Hui brother comic films. As Bruce Lee rapturously raged the world with his breathtaking Kung Fu fighting and conveying of Kung Fu philosophy through skillful limb movements, Japan was without exception among this Kung Fu mania. For the first time, Japanese audience tasted the speed and action from Hong Kong production from the stunning performance by Lee. Japanese television stations even aired Hong Kong Kung Fu films in prime-time programs. The year 1973, exhibiting Enter the Dragon (1973), was marked as the starting point of Hong Kong film in Japanese market (Yau 2013). A large number of Japanese local films at that time were even named after “dragon” (Leung 2000). As a result, Hong Kong film stars (e.g. Hui brothers, Jackie Chan) and some popular genres (action films) continued to draw wide attention in Japan. In 1983, among the top 20 films in Japan, 4 were Hong Kong action films. In the 1980s, urban action film and comedies by Cinema City dominated Hong Kong film market at that time and the box-­ office hits were also distributed in Japan. Film stars of Cinema City were invited to Japan to attend all sorts of promotional activities (Yeung 2000). It is by no means that we can deny the importance of Run Run Shaw who painstakingly drove the Hong Kong-Japan filmic connection and cultural exchange. Following the steps of S. K. Chang and later the Shaw Brothers, more and more Hong Kong film talents joined force to carry on the cultural legacy, cradling the later globally dazzling East Asian cultural circle. In 2015, a Hong Kong film Ten Years/Shi Nian 十年 caught global spotlights. The film, constituted of five episodes directed by five young directors, on the one hand won the Best Film in the 2016 Hong Kong Film Award. On the other hand, due to its “film noir” style, which turned



out conveying thunderous criticism on CCP’s seamless intervention into Hong Kong’s society, the film was banned from mainstream cinema chains. Despite of controversies, global filmmakers were greatly inspired by this dystopic creation and initiated a global “Ten Years” project. Japan was one of the project members. Produced by Japanese eminent film director Hirokazu Kore-eda (是枝裕和), the Japanese version “Ten Years” was directed by five young talents, depicting how Japanese society would look like in ten years under radical technological change and nuclear crisis. Different from the post-war era, this latest Hong Kong-Japan connection was beyond filmic artistry mutual appreciation but represented a sharing zeitgeist among East Asian young generation—their grave concern about the local society and Asia under change. Hong Kong-South Korea Connection Collaboration between Hong Kong and South Korea was less eye-­catching than that with Japan. After the turmoil of civil war, film industry of South Korea gradually resurrected in the mid-1950s. While film tycoons in Hong Kong had already established a film empire in Hong Kong and Japan soon recovered from the WWII with assistance from the United States, South Korea was merely an inferior in the East Asia. Instead of exporting human and technological resources, South Korea welcomed opportunities to work with Hong Kong counterparts. After a few successful attempts since 1957, between Performing Arts Company of Korea and Hong Kong film companies, South Korean filmmakers were even more eager to collaborate with Hong Kong. Hong Kong-South Korea collaboration became a trend with mostly the Korean side providing the money and Hong Kong providing the professionals. Red Turn the Flowers When Down Come the Showers/Yubu Sahua Huabuhong 雨不灑花花不紅 (1959) made an exemplar of successful investment and pleasant collaboration. It was a Mandarin film produced by a Korean film company and directed by directors from Hong Kong and Japan, shooting in Korea. The Korean company paid most of the production cost and obtained the screening rights in Korea, while the Hong Kong side provided the casting and acquired the distribution rights for Southeast Asia (Law and Bren 2004, pp. 206–207). Besides intensive collaboration with Japanese film professionals, Shaw Brothers also spotted the potential resources which could be obtained from South Korea in order to better ensure the efficiency of film produc-



tion supplying to its growing cinema network. Less than learning from this collaborator, Run Run Shaw would rather make full use of the well-­ preserved natural scenes and ancient architectures, as well as relatively cheap labors in South Korea. The Last Woman of Shang/Da Ji 妲己 (1964) was a collaborative product, co-starring the leading roles from Hong Kong and South Korea, filmed in Shaw Brothers Clearwater Bay studio. Benefited from the fruitful experience in making costume features from the Korean side, as well as the similar cultural taste shared among of Korean and Hong Kong audience, this blockbuster-scale film was well received in two markets. Shaw Brothers gradually gained confidence and built partnership with South Korean Shin Films. Shaw Brothers employed a number of Korean film talents who directed nine films for the company. Korean film director Chang-Hwa Jeong (鄭昌和) joined Shaw Brothers in the 1960s and directed King Boxer/Tianxia Diyi Quan 天下第一拳 (1972) (American title Five Fingers of Death when distributed in North America). This was the first martial art film known to the European market and screened at mainstream American theater houses, launching the Kung Fu mania in North America in full fledge (Yau 2010; Law and Bren 2004, pp. 221– 222). As mentioned earlier, this film for weeks was even ranked top in the American chart. Actually, almost at the same period of time, Hong Kong and Taiwan martial arts made great hits in South Korea, through swordsmen novels and Shaw Brothers martial art films. Chang Cheh and King Hu’s martial art master pieces helped Shaw Brothers win a large audience base in South Korea. This also foregrounded the base of the latter Bruce Lee hits. After Raymond Chow left Shaw Brothers, he continued the Hong Kong-Korea cooperation in Golden Harvest. Directors under the Golden Harvest system were sent to station in South Korea. In a number of co-­ productions, Golden Harvest was responsible for the cost of director, acting crew and technicians, while the Korean company provided the accommodation and extras. Hap Ki Do/He Qi Dao 合氣道 (1972), a film shot in South Korea featuring Karate and Hap Ki Do experts from Hong Kong and South Korea, became one of the most popular Asian films in the United States in that year (Law 2013),15 presenting significant threats to Shaw Brothers’ long-standing market share in the overseas markets. In the 15  Another two were The Big Boss starring Bruce Lee by Golden Harvest and the aforementioned King Boxer by Shaw Brothers.



following years, more stunning productions were launched by Golden Harvest, though all were action films, constantly presenting new faces and action creativities to generate visual impact in novelty. The rapturous enthusiasm over Hong Kong action films, by Bruce Lee and later Jackie Chan, was sustained in the 1980s and 1990s. The influx of the New Wave directors in Hong Kong brought to South Korea a new flow of visual enjoyment, with John Woo’s hero “film noir” gangster pictures, Ching Siu Tung (程小東)’s ghost fantasies and Wong Kar-wai’s art-­ house films: full of entertaining elements, violent but lyrical martial arts and melodramatic narratives. Though this passion began to decline in 1995 when the imported number of Hong Kong films dropped, but before that, the percentage of Hong Kong films among the total film imported consistently remained between 20% and over 30% since 1987. From then on, the remaining ardor for Hong Kong films became individualized and stardom/director-oriented. The reasons of this “Hong Kong syndrome” are mainly attributed to the soaring popularity of VHS players among South Korean households and the growing stardom of a group of Hong Kong superstars such as Leslie Cheung who raged the East Asian market. Most importantly, the popularity of Hong Kong films in the 1980s can be attributed to the level of affect: the doomed destiny of peripheral regions assembles those outcasted film heroes, the visual and audio impact led Korean citizens temporarily stay out of the turmoil in the political transition and Hong Kong film offered an outlet of entertainment for anti-Hollywood film invasion (Lee 2006). Vietnam Market Vietnam shares a long borderline with today’s mainland China, and an established Sinophone migration community has long existed in Vietnam (Table 3.5). Since the 1920s, Cantonese opera troupes already traveled to different provinces and different countries, including Vietnam. Same as the situation in the North America and Malaya, the huge popularity of Cantonese opera followed by constant operatic troupe tour-performance thus facilitated the later film distribution in Vietnamese markets. Almost at the same period as the Shaw family kicked off the cross-­ oceanic film network expansion, Lianhua (Shanghai)’s Hong Kong branch, another prominent film pioneers in the 1930s derived from Hong Kong’s first film company the China Sun, also indirectly commenced the



Table 3.5  Percentage of different linguistic groups among Sino-population in Southeast Asia in 1950 Country





Burma Thailand Vietnam Cambodia and Laos Malaya Sarawak North Brunei (Sabah) Singapore Indonesia Philippines

1% 60% 30% 60% 10.9% 8.7% 5% 21.5% 8% 2%

40% 3% 8% 7% 28.6% 15.2% 7% 39.6% 47% 70%

25% 10% 45% 20% 25.1% 10.6% 26% 21.6% 12% 20%

8% 12% 10% 4% 21% 31.4% 56% 5.5% 21% 2%

Source: G. William Skinner, 1951, Report on the Chinese in Southeast Asia, Dec. 1950, Data paper no.1, Southeast Asia Project, Cornell University Cited in Lee EH, 2003, History of Southeast Asian Chinese 東南亞華人史, p. 9, Wunan Publisher, Taiwan

journey across nation-state borders. A student from Lianhua, son of a wealthy Chinese merchant in Vietnam, set up Guo Lian company (國聯) and made films with Vietnamese subtitles for overseas distribution. In 1938, he established a studio in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) and continued the expansion of the Vietnam market (Law and Bren, p. 186). The 1930s was the age that marks not only the first golden age of Cantonese films, but also the inchoation of cross-border co-­ production trend. Parallel to Tianyi and Grand View, another noteworthy film company in the 1930s was Nan Yue (南粵), which was a Cantonese film-oriented production house established in 1935 by Zhu Qingxian 竺清賢. Nan Yue was regarded as the third biggest film company during the pre-war period and was aggressive in terms of expanding the overseas market. They even planned to establish a base in Vietnam, though failed to achieve at the end. Noteworthy is that, a well-known director of Nan Yue, Chan Pei (陳皮) directed a Vietnamese film with the whole group of casting from Vietnam (An Nam). It is regarded as a gesture of internationalization. Afterwards, in 1940, Sun Sing film company shot a Cantonese film called The Long Life Princess/Changsheng Gongzhu 長生宮主 (1940) in Vietnam. But the wars in Vietnam in the 1950s caused the ceasing of Vietnam-­ Hong Kong connection. The later withdrawal of Japanese troops in



Vietnam caused the separation of Vietnam with the north controlled by communist while the south was still under French colonial rule. In 1948, the north Vietnamese government established a film bureau for the purpose of propaganda. It was after a few years, in 1954, a Hong Kong citizen named Ng Hwa built a film studio and co-produced a small number of films with Vietnamese (Law 2011). Philippines Market Among the Southeast Asian markets, Philippines played an important role that it was the major market of Amoy films made in Hong Kong. Taiwan and the Philippines were two territories accommodating the largest amount of Amoy/Hokkein-dialect speaking emigrants who were originated from Fujian province. After the WWII, economy of the Philippines was soon resurrected under the US assistance. Meanwhile, despite of the huge population of overseas Sinophone population in the territories, in the Cold War period, the Philippines government implemented the “local first” policy, which greatly suppressed business of non-Filipino ethnics. While their hometown, Fujian province, was already under siege of the Communist China, that generation of Sinophone businessmen had to seek alternatives to continue their business. It was under such circumstances that Hong Kong was chosen to become this alternative, so that Amoy films were derived. Philippine-based businessmen, Esteban Ngo, who was originated from the Chinatown in Manila, established Sun Kwong film company (新光電 影公司) in Hong Kong and invited musical performers from Fujian to join their film productions. There, Ngo made the first made-in-Hong Kong Amoy film A Belated Encounter/Xiangfeng Henwan 相逢恨晚 (1948), which was screened in the Philippines (1948) and Taiwan (1950) only. It was from Ngo that later Amoy films were able to be distributed widely in Southeast Asian markets. Following Ngo’s path and gradually adopting the pre-sale system, more financiers laid ventures in this dialect film business and advanced the prosperity of Amoy film industry in the 1950s–1960s. By mid-1950s, there were at least eight film companies in Hong Kong mainly producing Amoy films. Film business tycoons such as Shaw Brothers also joined the competition to share the Amoy dialect market. Major film studios such as Wadar studio were once occupied by Amoy film production teams (Chung 2012).



Though the Amoy film industry only enjoyed 20 years blossom (late 1940s–1960s) and ceased with waves of nation-building projects in Southeast Asian countries, it emerged as a glittering spark in the Cold War Hong Kong. Besides exporting films from Hong Kong to the Philippines market, Hong Kong filmmakers also sought collaboration with the Southeast Asian counterparts. Having learned from the popularity of fantasies from Philippines, Hong Kong filmmakers started cooperation with the Filipino counterparts. Chapman Ho was a businessman who had done business with Filipinos for years. Since the 1950s, cooperation took forms such as Filipino production with Hong Kong investment and co-production between two parties. The first co-produced film was Sanda Wong (aka The Revenge of Sanda Wong)/Shemo Fuchou Ji 蛇魔復仇記 (1955). This film was made into three versions: Mandarin, Cantonese and Tagalog, which were achieved through cooperation between Philippine company Vistan and Hong Kong Min Sheng film company. The film was kicked off in 1955 in Hong Kong Wader studio and was publicly shown in 1956. The director and the main crew were from the Philippines. When the film had its premiere in Manila, the president even appeared to show support. Following this first attempt, a series of snake-theme movies were shown in Hong Kong and gained popularity. Among these productions, some were produced by Hong Kong companies while some by Filipino companies. Sawarak/Sheyao Dao 蛇妖島 (1955) was produced by Jindu film company and shot in the Philippines with a whole casting of Filipino actors. According to Ng Ho (2000), the snake films of Philippines context was a mirror of the white snake legend in Chinese culture, a totem film genre. He argued that the plots about invaders being trapped in precarious tropical forests where the snakes and demons live reflected the haunting colony memory, the struggle of decolonialization and highlights of the revenge of Southeast Asia (Ng 2000). Later in 1957, an even greater international cooperation occurred, with filming team members from Hong Kong, Philippines and Japan—The Treasure of General Yamashita/Shanxia Fengwen Baozang 山下奉文寶 藏 (1957). Filmed in color with technical support from Kodak and with Hollywood’s Columbia film company responsible for Southeast Asian distribution, this film was shot in Singapore and Philippines (Law and Bren 2004, pp. 204–205; Yu 1997c).



Merry Goes Round: Contemporary Co-production in Millenniums Various reasons have been mentioned in previous chapter regarding the ebbs and flows of Hong Kong film production, genre diversity and change of market size. Inevitably, the downturn of Hong Kong local film production and exportation appeared since the mid-1990s. In the face of Hong Kong film industrial downturn and looming claims that “there will be no Hong Kong film” (Hong Kong Free Press 2018)16 especially in the post-­ CEPA era, anxieties and furies could be identified from both the industry and the academics. People gravely fear of the quickened pace of Hong Kong being merged with mainland China. A dystopia film Ten Years/Shi Nian 十年 (2015) voiced out filmmakers’ solemn worries on the future of Hong Kong society. In the film industry, increasing controversies are vested on the fading of Hong Kong film characteristics following the “invasion” of CEPA-driven co-production films. That said, we could never judge the quality of a film by its funding source only. However, taking “co-production” as a neutral term, a century’s Hong Kong film development is never free from co-production trend. The elaborative and extensive discussion above gave a vivid picture of how Hong Kong cinema has thrived with the never ceased accumulation of financial and human resources in the field. Therefore, in this section, co-production refers to trans-border collaborative works under various industrial schemes: ­Asia-­based and China-based (CEPA). China here refers to the People’s Republic of China, the sovereignty that Hong Kong is under governed. Pan-Asian Production Facing the historical low tide of Hong Kong film production at the juncture of 1997 handover and 1998 Asian financial crisis, a new trend was introduced by filmmakers in the 2000s and was coined by scholars as “pan-Asian cinema”—a convergence of economic, cultural and human resource flows across Asian film industry, to create a pan-Asian market that equates to the Hollywood market (Teo 2008; Davis and Yeh 2008; Lim 2015). 16  Kung fu movie star Jackie Chan has said there is no distinction between Chinese and Hong Kong films anymore during an interview when he attended the People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing.



According to Davis and Yeh, the term “pan-Asian cinema” encompasses a range of convergence: talent sharing, border-crossing investment, co-production and market consolidation. Another Hong Kong scholar, Chan Ka Ming, coined the series co-production projects “experimental transnationality” (Chan 2011) due to the dynamics generated from largely different industrial cultures of film practitioners of Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. Under the umbrella of studies on East Asian popular culture, the inter-Asian reference, in terms of Confucius culture, war memory and colonial history, provides the ground of regional empathy. Therefore, the pan-Asian notion embraces both financial and cultural implications. Hong Kong, with its historical reliance on Southeast Asian markets and its long history of border-crossing co-productions dating back to the earliest period of Hong Kong’s film industry, was well placed to a vista of pan-­ Asian production in response to the decline of its domestic market. From a market-oriented approach, the population of Southeast Asia and East Asia is not less than North America. A film that conquers this pan-Asian market could generate huge profit and thus a Hollywood-scale production could be achieved. Applause Pictures, established by Peter Chan Ho-sun in 2000, led this pan-Asian trend. Three/San Geng 三更 (2002) and Three… Extreme/San Geng II 三更2 (2004) were pan-Asian collaboration of financial and human resources from South Korea, Japan and Hong. The Eye/Jian Gui 見鬼 (2002) was a collaboration between Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand. These films were inspired by trendy Japanese horror and based on a cultural system of life-death that is shared among Southeast Asia and East Asia. In 2005, another pan-Asian blockbuster was produced by Peter Chan: Perhaps Love/Ruguo Ai 如果愛 (2005). Different from the previous works, this film intentionally includes China factors in order to appeal to a larger market in mainland China. Leading stars included Takeshi Kaneshiro (金城武), a household name across East Asia, Zhou Xun (周 迅), a rising superstar in mainland China, and Ji Jin-hee, a South Korean star who gained huge popularity across East Asia due to his impressive performance in a Korean costume TV drama Dae Janggeum/Da Chang Jin 大長今 (2003). Noteworthy is that, Dae Janggeum was an important element among the rampant Korean Wave that swept Asian world in the 2000s. The theme song of this movie was sung by Jacky Cheung, one of the “heavenly kings” in Hong Kong’s popular song industry, yet another household name across East Asia in the 1990s. In addition, aspiring to internationalize Perhaps Love as a counterpart to Moulin Rouge, Peter Chan



invited a Bollywood master to take charge of the choreography. From the case of Perhaps Love, it is not difficult to sense the ambition of Hong Kong filmmakers to create a contemporary “Hollywood in the East” or a regional film power that is alternative to the dominant Hollywood world (Yeh 2010). Besides pan-Asian production, Peter Chan long before had spotted the tantamount potential of the mainland Chinese market. Following another significant industrial trend, he was one among the pioneer groups of Hong Kong film talents who successfully opened a vast market to a new kind of Hong Kong film—co-production as we call it in the immediate future. Collaborated with China Film Group, Warner China Film HG Corporation and BONA, three leading film groups in mainland China, Peter Chan directed The Warlords/Touming Zhuang 投名狀 (2007). Based on an ancient Chinese historical incident and featuring three Greater China superstars (Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro), this blockbuster film was enormously well received in mainland China in term of both the film quality and box office. Noteworthy is that, in a more recent period, heading to south becomes an alternative for filmmakers who are not willing to appeal to or already banned from the “north”—mainland China. In the context of CEPA, on the one hand, monetary resource for filmmaking is widened thanks to the vast mainland market. On the other hand, film contents and even filmmaking professionals’ political background are suspected to be screened by mainland authorities, shrinking the creativity and liberty which Hong Kong filmmakers used to enjoy. Some filmmakers are even restricted from entering the mainland market due to his/her anti-Chinese Communist Party stance. Chapman To 杜汶澤 is one of the examples. Different from a lot of Hong Kong filmmakers and film stars who heightened media exposure in mainland China, Chapman To established his film company, Dream Moon, based in Malaysia in 2014. Besides, he kicked off his new filming journey in Malaysia by producing Southeast Asia-based film—Let’s Eat/ kai fan la 開飯啦 (2016), a comedy movie celebrating the Lunar Chinese New Year featuring Chapman To himself and a number of popular stars from Hong Kong. As shown from this chapter, cultural and industrial ties between Hong Kong and Southeast Asia have been long established dating back to the pre-war era. Faces of Hong Kong stars and phrases from Hong Kong films are never estranged to Southeast Asian Chinese. However, under the currents of the downturn of film industry, cultural



globalization and long-existing Hollywood market dominance, whether Dream Moon and film works of Chapman To make a new landmark or an industrial gimmick that flops is yet to be seen. CEPA and Co-production There has been an inevitable “northbound wave” among Hong Kong filmmakers who are driven by the sizable market in mainland China following the implementation of CEPA or even earlier than CEPA when mainland China started to initiate a discourse agenda change from “made in China” to “create in China” at the threshold of the millennium. The early trend of this “draining of cultural talents” from Hong Kong to the north could be found among a group of intellectuals: writers, artists and film talents (Chow 2017). In terms of the film industry, we observe that 100% local production comprises smaller and smaller proportion in the whole market as the number of local productions never exceeds the number of co-production films. Noteworthy is that, production investments that exceed 5 million Hong Kong dollars (per movie) are mostly co-­ production works (Yin and He 2009). Comparatively, filming projects funded or financed by Hong Kong’s Film Development Fund, which starts from 2007, seldom reach beyond 3 million Hong Kong dollars’ investment. According to Film Development Fund, a maximum amount is vested in financing each film production because as a commercial product, film should be largely invested by commercial entities (Li and Xi 2016). As discussed extensively in the previous chapter, criticism has been vested on co-production works in terms of the political censorship on both film contents and personnel arrangement, blockbusters that only appeal to visual-audio impact but lack of “Hong Kong taste”. Nevertheless, the co-production trend has become a noteworthy and even a significant part in Hong Kong cinema. Its significance rests on not only the controversies it gives birth to, but also a number of landmark works that are produced under the CEPA scheme—backed by sufficient financial resources and the extended network of Greater China talents. Increasingly, other than emphasizing political censorship vested on CEPA-­ based co-productions, scholars unearth different patterns of co-produced films which yield content resilience in-between Chinese taste and Hong Kong cultural mark. In 2010, an exciting news bombarded Hong Kong cinema—Echoes of the Rainbow/Suiyue Shentou 歲月神偷 (2010) directed by Alex Law



(羅啟銳) and produced by his wife Mabel Cheung 張婉婷 was awarded the Crystal Bear for the Best Film in the Generation Kplus section at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival. Plenty of cultural signifiers are easily detected in the film: music in that age, British-style elite education and amiable neighborhood. One of the protagonists, Big Ear, loves collecting antiques, among which a huge Union Jack flag is his favorite. Ostensibly, it symbolizes a strong nostalgic sensation. This film is understood an epitome of Hong Kong collective memory, while it is actually a Hong Kong-China co-­production backed by Big Pictures, Dadi Media, Hong Kong Film Development Fund and Sky Cosmos, and distributed by Hong Kong Mei Ah Entertainment. In 2016, a co-production blockbuster became box-office champion— The Mermaid/Mei Fen Yu (美人魚). The film was directed by a renowned Hong Kong actor cum director Stephen Chiau, with box-office income of RMB3.4 billion (US$533 million) in mainland China and RMB45 million (US$7 million) in Hong Kong. The Mermaid was a co-production by Chow’s own company in Hong Kong and ventures from Shanghai and Beijing. It is been argued that The Mermaid demonstrates negotiation of localism and reinvention of Chow’s auteurship (Yeh and Chao 2018). The director tried to strike a balance between the Chinese and Hong Kong markets and tastes. The Chinese taste is reflected through casting of Chinese artists, Chinese settings (e.g. police station) and popular slangs from Chinese social media. The localism is unfolded on three levels: visual elements that echo Hong Kong’s uniqueness and the illogical mismatch of historical facts that display the Chow-style humor. The conflicts depicted in the film ironically mirror the political and economic conflicts taking place in Hong Kong “The merpeople’s resistance to elimination and their fight for survival parallels the filmmaker’s ongoing quest to find a way out of the dilemma in the CEPA framework” (Yeh and Chao 2018, p. 12). Ann Hui’s A Simple Life/Tao Jie 桃姐 (2012) was a sensation both in box office and among film critics. This film was a Hong Kong-China co-­ produced, produced by BONA, Focus Films and Sil-Metropole. The film, in a docudrama style, features a touching story of a quasi-motherson relation between an old housemaid and her young master. On the one hand, by illustrating the northbound career mobility of the leading actor Roger (played by Andy Lau), the director mirrored social reality of and anxiety over the restructuring of Hong Kong’s cultural industry against the backdrop of China rise. On the other hand, about Ah Tao (played by Deannie Ip), the old housemaid who had served Roger’s fam-



Table 3.6  Box office performance of Hong Kong films Year

Total number of Hong Kong films including local production and co-production

Number of local production among the annual top 10 ten box office Hong Kong films

Number of local production among the annual top three box office Hong Kong films

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016

51 54 56 53 42 51 59 61

3 3 4 7 3 4 3 4

2 1 2 2 0 1 1 1

Data compiled by the author based on information obtained from Hong Kong Motion Pictures Industry Association (MPIA)

ily for over half a century, her life story was featured in a low-key style instead of, as many directors would have done, being inserted in the grand history of Chinese or Hong Kong social development. The reluctance to present artificial nostalgic objects in A Simple Life made this work standout. “Made fifteen years after the handover, this self-reflexivity demonstrates an alternative imagination towards Hong Kong’s selfpositioning in its relationship to the mainland” (Han 2015, p.  31) (Table 3.6).

Concluding Remarks: Sinophone Hub and Global Influencer People could seldom deny the commercial-driven status quo in Hong Kong as an all-time maritime port city. With neither conspicuous promotional nor protectionist policies from the government, Hong Kong film industry had enjoyed over a century’s dynamism with incoming and outgoing flows of ventures, infrastructures and personnel. That said, Hong Kong’s role as a Sinophone cultural industrial hub was largely thanked to what I call “historical contingency”: a laissez-faire colony that transited migration flows while situated under the constantly changing Chinese politics and international geo-political dynamics, in which political forces and state government had roles to play. All these changes, along with



overwhelming commercial forces have shaped today’s Hong Kong film industry. The inception of Hong Kong film industry has already marked its border-­crossing nature: the inflow and outflow of filming resources, the integration of domestic and overseas markets, the meeting of talents from multiple directions. Hong Kong, with 1104 square kilometers and no more than 10 million citizens, for a long time has heavily relied on overseas markets to keep the film industry thriving (Table 3.7 and Fig.  3.3), and thus, turning this tiny port city into a hub of Sinophone film production and distribution. When steamships transported millions of hard labor forces to the new worlds, they at the same time helped the building of different Sinophone communities on foreign lands. These communities were later turned into wide-extended nodes to receive and to reproduce Sinophone cultural products of multiple kinds. Amid this long-running trans-border population and cultural journey, Hong Kong was a meeting place of cheap labors, cultural workers and venture seekers. Films of various languages and genres were made possible on this land, ironically thanks to colonial government’s indifference to the use of language compared to KMT’s stringent Mandarin-centered national language unification. Therefore, in addition to producing Cantonese cultural products that were familiar to the sizable Cantonese-migration community around the world, Hong Kong had also been the base of producing films in other Siniclanguages to meet the need of other migration communities. This meeting-place status lasted long enough, in the later age, to receive activists embracing “red-China” and “freedom China”, as well as sojourners, adventurers and dreamers who were attracted by the city’s all-time kaleidoscopic hybridity. This “Hong Kong taste” encountered its breakthrough in the 1970s when Bruce Lee brought Kung Fu to the world. This Kung Fu hallmark is by all means made in Hong Kong. The universal film language of “action” expressed through the made-in-Hong Kong Kung Fu thus became a unique “idea” acclaimed by international filmmakers (Pang 2006). In the heyday of Hong Kong film production, the late 1970s and early 1990s, Hong Kong once exported films to 90 countries, covering almost all continents (Table 3.7). It was the vision and ambition of Hong Kong film talents that made the miracle—Hong Kong as a global influencer. The Kung Fu mania



Table 3.7  A general picture of domestic exportation of Hong Kong exposed and developed films over and less than 35 mm in width (measured in quantity and value) Year

1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010



Million HKD

Million USD

Million meter

33.29 34.20 36.23 43.75 42.73 33.44 40.32 50.15 52.54 45.51 41.84 29.59 34.2 35.06 30.2 29.81 20.22 21.76 13.44 21.52 19.52 15.47 18.78 14.68 19.93 15.07 15.65 18.35 17.59 14.2 10.29

4.29 4.41 4.67 5.64 5.51 4.31 5.20 6.46 6.77 5.86 5.39 3.81 4.41 4.52 3.89 3.84 2.61 2.80 1.73 2.77 2.52 1.99 2.42 1.89 2.57 1.94 2.02 2.36 2.27 1.83 1.33

17.00 15.04 15.91 16.34 15.66 12.38 15.08 15.93 16.92 15.03 23.21 14.07 18.98 12.35 50.43 11.54 6.69 7.17 5.35 8.7 12.88 10.17 17.1 14.33 16.35 16.93 15.71 18.24 12.4 8.78 9.07

Million HKD 76.03 85.14 83.50 78.68 62.24 51.33 54.49 57.37 83.99 123.14 102.91 104.82 108.5 117.12 82.31 67.78 49.02 34.35 22.55 19.04 18.11 18.13 23.46 26.87 27.15 18.44 11.34 21.36 21.08 22.8 27.13

Million USD

Million meter

9.80 10.97 10.76 10.14 8.02 6.61 7.02 7.39 10.82 15.87 13.26 13.51 13.98 15.09 10.61 8.73 6.32 4.43 2.91 2.45 2.33 2.34 3.02 3.46 3.50 2.38 1.46 2.75 2.72 2.94 3.50

30.09 33.47 28.74 25.66 24.69 22.31 22.17 23.46 35.11 35.82 84.35 37.63 38.83 37.22 27.85 26.2 18.15 14.51 7.64 8.43 7.22 4.78 9.18 4.31 3.44 2.41 2.92 2.88 2.35 3.66 9.97

Countries Exported

90 90 68 83 77 68 65 65 61 51 49 39 38 45 35 31 29 25 17 25 29 24 20 20 19 19 16 16 10 10 10

Note: (1) Quantities and values refer to motion picture film exposed and developed, less or over 35 mm in width. (2) Since the 2000s, film production has increasingly relied on digital medium instead of film reels. Therefore, data of exposed and developed film importation and exportation tend not to show a full picture since the 2000s. In the year 2016, films are only exported to one country: Thailand Data of period 1980–1992 is derived from Grace Leung Lai-kuen, 1993, the evolution of Hong Kong as a regional movie production and export center. MPhil thesis, Chinese University of Hong Kong, pp. 29–30. Data of period 1993–2010 is provided by the Census and Statistics Department, The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. http://www.censtatd.gov.hk/hkstat/sub/sp230_tc. jsp?productCode=B1020003



90.00 80.00 70.00 60.00 50.00 40.00 30.00 20.00 0.00

1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010


Value (million USD)

Quantity (million meter)

Fig. 3.3  A general picture of domestic exportation of Hong Kong exposed and developed films over and less than 35  mm in width (measured in quantity and value). (Data of period 1980–1992 is derived from Leung GL, 1993, the evolution of Hong Kong as a regional movie production and export center. MPhil thesis, Chinese University of Hong Kong, pp. 29–30; Data of period 1993–2010 is provided by the Census and Statistics Department, The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. http://www.censtatd.gov.hk/hkstat/sub/ sp230_tc.jsp?productCode=B1020003)

around the world later inspired the film Kill Bill (2003), a film that tribute to Bruce Lee’s Kung Fu legend. The Kung Fu heritage also contributed to the success of Stephen Chiau’s Shaolin Soccer/Shaolin Zuqiu 少林 足球 (2001). Hong Kong melodrama or comics, though extremely popular in East Asia (e.g. Stephen Chiau’s comic series) are seldom attractive to Western markets due to the linguistic and cultural gaps. However, the Kung Fu elements in this film made it globally appealing. To a large extent, commented by Pang (2006), this type of film expression even contributed to a distinctive pan-Asian cinema identity that distinguishes from the Hollywood (p. 52). Other Hong Kong-unique elements were appealing to global markets as well, such as the story of The Departed (2006) was adopted from Hong Kong. Not to mention the globally acclaimed names of film directors and stars who are also made in Hong Kong.



Table 3.8  Imports and Exports of Videotapes, Laser Disks and Other Compact Disks (HKD) Year


Total exports

Domestic exports


1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015

593,421,000 627,318,000 353,037,000 409,036,000 346,642,000 551,071,000 577,000,000 831,000,000 738,000,000 815,000,000 1,127,000,000 342,000,000 296,000,000 249,000,000 194,000,000 245,000,000 143,000,000 139,000,000 158,000,000 107,000,000

230,426,000 215,732,000 380,506,000 862,199,000 1,249,920,000 1,441,281,000 1,030,000,000 1,052,000,000 1,074,000,000 972,000,000 1,427,000,000 536,000,000 503,000,000 339,000,000 285,000,000 288,000,000 206,000,000 412,000,000 551,000,000 154,000,000

46,956,000 69,397,000 234,172,000 541,451,000 889,773,000 782,490,000 582,000,000 437,000,000 332,000,000 282,000,000 465,000,000 351,000,000 301,000,000 204,000,000 125,000,000 127,000,000 103,000,000 92,000,000 108,000,000 78,000,000

183,470,000 146,335,000 146,334,000 320,749,000 360,147,000 658,791,000 448,000,000 614,000,000 743,000,000 690,000,000 962,000,000 185,000,000 203,000,000 135,000,000 159,000,000 162,000,000 103,000,000 320,000,000 444,000,000 81,000,000

Note: Contents of the videotapes include film, television and other relevant images. Data collected from annual reports prepared by the Census and Statistics Department, The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

With little doubt, in terms of the industrial production, the situation of Hong Kong film exportation (domestic product exportation) has been declining since the mid-1990s in terms of both quantity and values exported to overseas regions, coupled with the downturn of the whole production industry. This general trend is measured according to industrial statistical records of exposed and developed films as well as video disks (Table 3.8).17 However, if we break down the whole plate and gauge the phenomenon in different lens, the story becomes more complicated. Other than  Note that the statistical record of this item includes films and other entertainment and educational contents, so that the figure could not show a precise picture of the film industry. 17



35000 30000 25000 20000 15000 10000 5000 0

Quantity (km)

Value (thousand HKD)

Fig. 3.4  Re-export of exposed or developed film over and less than 35 mm in width. (Data is provided by the Census and Statistics Department, The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)

repeating the same tragic story, there are still rooms for further exploration. From the chart that shows the trend of film re-exportation, we can see the trend is not as single-direction as the situation of domestic exportation. Two points in the time frame: 2003 and 2010 show a positive sign in terms of both exported quantity and value. Moreover, interestingly, the trend of the general re-export is consistent with the shape of re-export to mainland China (Figs. 3.4 and 3.5). Without substantial data available, a wild guess is that Hong Kong still plays an important role as a r­ e-­exportation hub of international movies to mainland China. Following the steps of different forms of Hong Kong-mainland collaboration since the late 1970s, the total export of Hong Kong films (re-export and domestic export) to mainland China has increasingly constituted an important part in the film industry. The change of major buyers of Hong Kong films offers hints for further consideration. Southeast Asian countries continue serving as the



14000 12000 10000 8000 6000 4000


1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016




Fig. 3.5  Re-export of exposed or developed film over and less than 35 mm in width destination to mainland China. (Data is provided by the Census and Statistics Department, The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)

major buyers of Hong Kong films, especially purchase of films from Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand (Table  3.9 and 3.10). It is consistent with the previous discussion that Taiwan and Hong Kong have established close collaboration dating back to the 1950s, since when Hong Kong films dominated Taiwan’s market due to the Cold War political forces. A lot more puzzles remain, empirically and methodologically. During the extensive survey process, it is surprising to discover the serious lack of valid data from different governments in terms of the number of screening films, importation and exportation trends. Data available for scrupulous examination is derived from existing literatures and provided by commercially operated professional associations, and the quality of data varies dramatically. How to record and archive data comprehensively regarding the film industrial development, which has played a vital role in making various social cultures, is of crucial importance to public policymakers. As nowadays digital filming has dominated the film industry, updated methodology on industrial research is of top priority.



Table 3.9  Changes of major buyers of Hong Kong domestic exported films (values of films exported to different countries) 1954 1956 1958 1960 1962 1964 1966 1968 1970 1972 1974 1976 1978 1980 1982 1984 1986 1988 1990 1992 1993 1994

Taiwan (29.5%) Malaya (28.6%) Taiwan (20.5%) Malaya (22.6%) UK (29.6%) Singapore (22.7%) US (24.8%) Singapore (24.2%) Singapore (27.4%) Singapore (23%) Indonesia (14.8%) Indonesia (17.3%) Singapore (13.9%) Indonesia (21%) Indonesia (22.7%) Taiwan (21.9%) Taiwan (28.7%) Taiwan (24.9%) Taiwan (33.7%) Taiwan (36%) Taiwan (38.17%) Taiwan (32.5%)

Malaya (22.8%) US (11.4%) Indo-China (19.1%) UK (20.3%) Thailand (20.9%) Thailand (17.1%) Thailand (26.3%) Japan (23.6%) US (18.5%)

Thailand (8.3%) Thailand (7.9%) Thailand (9.3%) US (13.2%)

Indonesia (7.3%) US (7.6%)

Malaya (16.3%) US (16.2%)

US (10.1%)

Japan (7.5%)

Japan (11.5%)

Taiwan (6.7%)

Singapore (21.8%) Indonesia (12.9%) US (15.9%)

Thailand (12.4%) Thailand (12.5%) Thailand (10.0%) Taiwan (8.2%)

Taiwan (7.5%)

US (7.5%)

Singapore (7.5%) Taiwan (6.9%)

Taiwan (19.7%) Malaya (14.5%) UK (18.6%)

Taiwan (17.2%) Vietnam (13%) KHMER (12.4%) Malaysia Vietnam (8.4%) (7.8%) Malaysia (11%) US (10.9%) Malaysia Indonesia (12.9%) (12.8%) Malaysia (12%) Taiwan (12%)

Singapore (10.1%) Taiwan (8.6%)

Singapore (8.6%) Taiwan US (9.5%) Malaysia (10.6%) (8.7%) Indonesia Malaysia Singapore (15.9%) (8.2%) (9.3%) Indonesia Malaysia (11%) Singapore (21.4%) (10.3%) Indonesia S Korea Malaysia (13%) (10.3%) (9.1%) S Korea Indonesia Singapore (12.8%) (11.7%) (9.7%) S Korea Malaysia Singapore (11.5%) (7.8%) (7.8%) S Korea Malaysia (11%) Indonesia (16.11%) (9.75%) Malaysia (15%) Singapore Indonesia (10.8%) (10.5%)

US (5.9%) Japan (4.1%)

Taiwan (11.9%) Indonesia (9.3%) US (8%)

Nigeria (5.2%) Thailand (8.2%) Singapore (8.3%) Thailand (7.5%) Thailand (5.2%) Singapore (6.3%) Thailand (8.9%) Indonesia (7.4%) Singapore (9.54%) Thailand (9.3%) (continued)



Table 3.9 (continued) 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014

Taiwan (29.9%) Taiwan (27.5%) Taiwan (25.34%) Thailand (19.47%) Taiwan (23.65%) Thailand (30.46%) Thailand (50.15%) Thailand (79.17%) Thailand (66.78%) Thailand (44.56%) Thailand (74.14%) Thailand (75.33%) Thailand (45.22%) Taiwan (45.4%) Taiwan (40.44%) Taiwan (56.24%) Taiwan (65.57%) Thailand (81.17%) Thailand (97.89%) Thailand (97.99%)

Malaysia Singapore (18.6%) (9.5%) Malaysia Singapore (20.48%) (12.67%) Singapore Malaysia (19.81%) (17.87%) Malaysia Singapore (18.63%) (18.56%) Thailand Singapore (19.78%) (15.12%) Taiwan Malaysia (16.42%) (13.67%) Taiwan Malaysia (8.76%) (8.08%) M.China Taiwan (40.1%) (21.5%) Taiwan M.China (12.1%) (6.35%) Taiwan Malaysia (38.7%) (3.74%) Malaysia Singapore (7.43%) (5.35%) Malaysia Singapore (6.59%) (3.85%) Taiwan M.China (42.51%) (3.67%) Thailand M.China (39.92%) (10.44%) Thailand M.China (37.8%) (13.18%) Thailand Singapore (33.18%) (4.39%) Thailand M.China (27.17%) (3.83%) Malaysia Taiwan (11.80%) (3.43%) others less than 3%

Indonesia (9.1%) Indonesia (12.28%) Thailand (10.42%) Taiwan (18.42%) Malaysia (10.69%) Singapore (10.48%) Singapore (7.8%) Singapore (8.46%) Malaysia (3.88%) Singapore (3.1%) Taiwan (3.6%) M.China (3.47%) Malaysia (3.09%) Malaysia (2.40%) Malaysia (4.19%) M.China (3.6%) Malaysia (2.93%) M.China (2.35%)

Thailand (6.3%) Thailand (4.27%) USA (5.49%) Philippines (2.92%) S.Korea (10.01%) M.China (8.35%) M.China (7.71%) Malaysia (8.29%) Australia (2.96%) M.China (2.91%) M.China (2.05%) Taiwan (2.21%) Singapore (1.59%) Singapore (0.74%) Singapore (2.94%) Malaysia (2.03%) Singapore (0.13%) Singapore (1.02%)

others less than 2%

Data of 1954–1995, except for 1993, derived from Chan JM and Leung GL, 1997, “Hong Kong cinema and its overseas market: A historical review, 1950–1995”, in Fifty Years of Electric Shadows, Hong Kong: The Urban Council of Hong Kong. p. 151 Data of 1993, 1996–2016 collected from the Census and Statistics Department, The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. http://www.censtatd.gov.hk/hkstat/sub/sp230_tc. jsp?productCode=B1020003



Table 3.10  Changes of major buyers of Hong Kong domestic exported films (values and quantities of films exported to different countries) 1993 (value) 1993 (quantity) 1994 1994 1995 1995 1996 1996 1997 1997 1998 1998 1999 1999 2000 2000 2001 2001 2002 2002 2003 2003

Taiwan (38.17%) Taiwan (43.84%) Taiwan (32.5%) Taiwan (38.86%) Taiwan (29.9%) Taiwan (36.2%) Taiwan (27.5%) Taiwan (31.17%) Taiwan (25.34%) Taiwan (38.39%) Thailand (19.47%) Malaysia (28.41%) Taiwan (23.65%) Taiwan (41.19%) Thailand (30.46%) Taiwan (32.81%) Thailand (50.15%) Philippines (24.1%) Thailand (79.17%) Taiwan (34.77%) Thailand (66.78%) Taiwan (34.54%)

S Korea (16.11%) Malaysia (13.94%) Malaysia (15%) Malaysia (17.43%) Malaysia (18.6%) Malaysia (22.45%) Malaysia (20.48%) Malaysia (27.19%) Singapore (19.81%) Singapore (24.52%) Malaysia (18.63%) Singapore (22.17%) Thailand (19.78%) Malaysia (14.18%) Taiwan (16.42%) Malaysia (18.91%) Taiwan (8.76%) Malaysia (16.75%) M.China (40.1%) M.China (31.5%) Taiwan (12.1%) Malaysia (22.55%)

Malaysia (11%) Indonesia (10.98%) Singapore (10.8%) Singapore (11.57%) Singapore (9.5%) Singapore (9.85%) Singapore (12.67%) Singapore (14.35%) Malaysia (17.87%) Malaysia (19.91%) Singapore (18.56%) Taiwan (20.65%) Singapore (15.12%) Singapore (14.05%) Malaysia (13.67%) Singapore (14.46%) Malaysia (8.08%) Taiwan (16.61%) Taiwan (21.5%) Malaysia (11.33%) M.China (6.35%) Singapore (14.28%)

Indonesia (9.75%) Singapore (9.29%) Indonesia (10.5%) S.Korea (4.98%) Indonesia (9.1%) Indonesia (8.98%) Indonesia (12.28%) Indonesia (12.41%) Thailand (10.42%) Indonesia (3.58%) Taiwan (18.42%) S.Korea (6.08%) Malaysia (10.69%) S.Korea (5.73%) Singapore (10.48%) S.Korea (5.14%) Singapore (7.8%) Singapore (15.44%) Singapore (8.46%) Singapore (9.88%) Malaysia (3.88%) M.China (9.34%)

Singapore (9.54%) S.Korea (4.73%) Thailand (9.3%) Philippines (4.2%) Thailand (6.3%) Philippines (3.76%) Thailand (4.27%) Philippines (2.79%) USA (5.49%) S.Korea (2.29%) Philippines (2.92%) Philippines (4.17%) S.Korea (10.01%) Philippines (5.71%) M.China (8.35%) Canada (4.32%) M.China (7.71%) Thailand (7.89%) Malaysia (8.29%) Philippines (2.24%) Australia (2.96%) Philippines (4.94%) (continued)



Table 3.10 (continued) 2004 2004 2005 2005 2006 2006 2007 2007 2008 2008 2009 2009 2010 2010 2011 2011 2012 2012 2013 2013 2014 2014

Thailand (44.56%) Malaysia (28.25%) Thailand (74.14%) Malaysia (29.85%) Thailand (75.33%) Malaysia (31.58%) Thailand (45.22%) M.China (27.29%) Taiwan (45.4%) Malaysia (34.33%) Taiwan (40.44%) M.China (51.9%) Taiwan (56.24%) Taiwan (35.75%) Taiwan (65.57%) Malaysia (86.14%) Thailand (81.17%) Malaysia (76.07%) Thailand (97.89%) Malaysia (57.62%) Thailand (97.99%) M.China (90.38%)

Taiwan Malaysia (38.7%) (3.74%) Taiwan Singapore (25.64%) (22.85%) Malaysia Singapore (7.43%) (5.35%) Singapore Taiwan (23.74%) (12.43%) Malaysia Singapore (6.59%) (3.85%) Taiwan Singapore (17.81%) (17.33%) Taiwan M.China (42.51%) (3.67%) Malaysia Thailand (16.22%) (14.48%) Thailand M.China (39.92%) (10.44%) Taiwan M.China (27.52%) (20.42%) Thailand M.China (37.8%) (13.18%) Malaysia Taiwan (25.32%) (10.13%) Thailand Singapore (33.18%) (4.39%) M.China Malaysia (31.61%) (23.67%) Thailand M.China (27.17%) (3.83%) M.China Taiwan (10.05%) (2.81%) Malaysia Taiwan (11.80%) (3.43%) M.China Thailand (18.43%) (1.98%) others less than 3%

Singapore (3.1%) M.China (6.27%) Taiwan (3.6%) Philippines (7.48%) M.China (3.47%) Thailand (14.04%) Malaysia (3.09%) Singapore (11.81%) Malaysia (2.40%) Singapore (10.17%) Malaysia (4.19%) Singapore (5.05%) M.China (3.6%) Singapore (5.66%) Malaysia (2.93%) Thailand (0.38%) M.China (2.35%) Taiwan (1.89%)

M.China (2.91%) Philippines (4.38%) M.China (2.05%) M.China (5.95%) Taiwan (2.21%) M.China (7.47%) Singapore (1.59%) Taiwan (10.56%) Singapore (0.74%) Thailand (1.96%) Singapore (2.94%) Thailand (1.48%) Malaysia (2.03%) Indonesia (1.20%) Singapore (0.13%) Singapore (0.12%) Singapore (1.02%) Singapore (1.28%)

M.China Thailand (36.33%) (4.38%) others less than 2%



Thailand (8.25%)



Taiwan (1.37%)




Table 3.10 (continued) 2015 2015

Thailand (99.97%) M.China (33.33%)

others less than 2% Thailand (66.67%)




Note: (1) Data in shaded areas refers to quantities of films exported to different countries. (2) Data in unshaded areas refers to values of films exported to different countries. (3) Films measured include exposed and developed films over and less than 35 mm width Data is collected from the Census and Statistics Department, The Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and calculated by the author. http://www.censtatd.gov.hk/hkstat/sub/sp230_tc. jsp?productCode=B1020003

Discussion Questions

1. Once upon a time in political turbulence, Hong Kong was the “orphan’s paradise” of Chinese cinema. A large group of film professionals actively producing films in Hong Kong are from mainland China. After 2003, CEPA facilitates the trend of co-­ production. How to evaluate the role of Hong Kong in the general development of Chinese film industry? How to distinguish Chinese cinema and Hong Kong cinema? 2. From this chapter, we could tell Hong Kong’s long history co-­ production films, since the nascence of its film industry. In Hollywood and Europe, co-production is one of the most common filming practices that garners the best resource and accommodates to a wider market. However, the introduction of CEPA in 2003 has triggered disputes in the industry and among mass audience. How do we re-examine co-production? What are the pros and cons of co-production? 3. Pan-Asian production is regarded one of the alternatives out of the CEPA scheme that Hong Kong filmmakers can sought to expand the currently shrinking market. Despite a number of successful cases, pan-Asian filmmaking inexorably faces organizational and social cultural gaps, as well as language difference. Moreover, the rise of national film industries in different neighbor countries, e.g. South Korea, Philippines and Thailand, further leads to a de-centralized Asian market. How to evaluate the present and future of pan-Asian co-production? When Hong Kong filmmakers plan pan-Asian coproductions, what strategies do you think suitable and feasible?



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Making Hong Kong TV

Chapter Overview The medium of transmitting telecommunication signal is the air. In broadcasting and television operation, air time means a program is on. Even more so than the composition of oxygen, which is essential to human life, “air time” has been given significant social meaning. Serving the public interest and passing down of social culture become the responsibilities of broadcasting—the upmost public communication platform of the mass society. Before the age that people are free to enjoy the visual-sonic televised entertainment, the most important means of information and amusement acquisition is another air-based medium—broadcasting. Historically, socially and technically, the broadcasting industry impersonates the past life, prelude and embryonal of the television industry. Hong Kong’s broadcasting in the early age took an educational role that is equally important to its amusement provider in the context that the mass grassroot population heavily relied on sounds instead of texts to get informed of public affairs. Therefore, it is essential to delineate the history of how broadcasting—sound as a medium becomes part of Hong Kong people’s social and cultural life, and thus an indispensable part of the Hong Kong history. Hong Kong’s television industry embarked in 1957 by a British-origin company, the Rediffusion. In the late 1960s, the once film business mogul © The Author(s) 2020 K. J. Wang, Hong Kong Popular Culture, Hong Kong Studies Reader Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8817-0_4




Run Run Shaw sensed the downturn of Mandarin films as Hong Kong’s local Cantonese-speaking population gradually stabilized and the ever-­ stronger Hong Kong identity was sprouting. He turned to television business and in 1967 Television Broadcast Limited (TVB) was established, a free television station. In the following years, another competitor got in— the Commercial Television (CTV). In the 1970s, a spectacular featured the area below the Lion Rocks—five broadcasting and television stations were located at the road that is only a kilometer long—the Broadcast Drive. Throughout the decade, as competitors entered the arena and free television service became a mainstream, television became the dominant channel for Hong Kong mass population to know the society and the world. Not only the main source of fulfilling people’s cultural and public lives, but also the cradle of future cultural professionals in arenas such as film and showbiz, Hong Kong’s television industry by all means became the fertilizer and facilitator of Hong Kong’s contemporary popular culture domain and what later is called Hong Kong identity. In the 1980s and 1990s, TVB and ATV dominated Hong Kong’s television market share. Impressive soap operas were produced and, without doubt, fierce competition between them occurred from time to time. Despite the occasional sparks from ATV that outshined TVB in the 1990s–2000s, the drastic change and chaos at ATV’s top management eventually led to its demise. From a quasi-monopoly to the literally one and only free television service provider, TVB in the 2000s already lost the aura and was under serious criticism of its declining television program quality and self-censorship. Losing interest in TVB as an everlasting big brother, audiences were keen to see new comers. Situated in the equally turbulent society, competition and controversies in the television industry is inevitably involved in the swirl of socio-cultural dynamics.

Broadcast in the Early Days Established in 1928, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), the oldest broadcasting station in Hong Kong, is also the sole public service broadcaster and operates independently from other government departments. RTHK “Who we are”1 It is the RTHK that takes the lead assisting the colonial government demonstrate accountability and efficiency through series of critical television episodes, 1

 See RTHK homepage at http://www.rthk.hk/aboutus.



situation comedies and phone-in programs in the 1970s and 80s, leading the Hong Kong society enter an age of open governance … Broadcast soap operas, DJ-anchored dialogues, music programs and a number of similar programs facilitate Hong Kong people to bring their personal life into the public domain through air. Wan Chin (2008, p. 9)

As early as the 1920s, broadcasting experiments were taken place in Hong Kong by engineers or amateurs, spreading information about entertainment programs and daily news. Facing the increasing popularity of wireless technology among the general public, the colonial government inaugurated regulations and license fee on civil wireless broadcasting. Meanwhile, reckoning the escalating need for a broadcasting service, the government, following the steps of the civil society, established the first outlet, GOW, at the first place for weather forecast. In late 1928, Hong Kong’s first formal broadcasting service was launched by the “Hong Kong Radio Society”, a civic organization located at the Pedder Street (Central District of Hong Kong). The society later got support from the colonial government and foregrounded the city’s official broadcast station. Hong Kong became the second earliest British overseas colony setting up its own official broadcasting industry (following Kenya). This broadcasting industry in inchoation was transmitted with the signal ZBW. During that period, license fee to receive broadcasting signal was charged per device per year (5 Hong Kong dollars). In 1928, the number of licenses released was 124 while the number reached 724 in 1929 (Chin 2008, pp. 17–18). It is to note that, it was not until 1939 that the radio station was eventually fully transferred to the hands of governmental departments. According to a senior technician who worked in Hong Kong’s earliest broadcast station, there were only six staffs including two anchors who were responsible for English and Chinese broadcasting, respectively, three technicians and one messenger. Due to the technological limitation, there was only seven hours’ air time per day, and broadcast programs were usually filled with Cantonese opera songs. Interestingly, instead of playing music disks, Cantonese operatic performers/singers were invited to the recording room to have a live performance. After a few years, in 1934, advancements were achieved as one more signal transmitter was established so that Chinese and English b ­ roadcasting could be signaled via two different channels: ZBW and ZEK. Larger variety of programs was added as well: besides Cantonese opera performance, Peking opera and Shanghai-style Mandarin songs (shi dai qu 時代曲) were



Table 4.1  Development of early broadcasting in Hong Kong Year


Responsible Unit

1928 Late 1920s early 1930s 1934 1939


Hong Kong radio society Civil society and government


Civil society and government Broadcasting advisory committee, post office

1941–1945 1948

JPHA Radio Hong Kong (RHK) RHK RHK

1950 1954

Broadcasting advisory committee, post office Public relations office Colonial government

included, and news was broadcasted in Cantonese, Mandarin and Teochew dialects. The multiple linguistic broadcasting programs were due to the more and more intensive South-North cultural exchange under the context of the newly established Republic of China (RTHK 2004, pp. 5–6).2 In 1939, the former broadcasting committee which used to oversee broadcasting service was replaced by the Broadcasting Advisory Committee, a unit appointed by the Postmaster General. Since then, broadcasting service in the territory became a sub-division of the Post Office, with their broadcasting office located in the former Post Office building at Pedder Street. However, the looming of the Sino-Japan war in Hong Kong in 1941 interrupted the inchoating Hong Kong broadcast business. The Japanese occupiers turned the broadcast station into “JPHA” (香港放送局), which remained functional by airing news and music programs in Cantonese, Mandarin, English and Japanese. In 1945, following the surrender of the Japanese troops, post-war reconstruction of the broadcast station became the priority of the colonial government (Table 4.1).

Post-War Broadcast The year 1948 marked the milestone that ZBW and ZEK were replaced by a formal title—RHK (Radio Hong Kong)—the official broadcast of colonial Hong Kong government. In the same year, the station moved to a  Memory from Mr. Lee Chung, a technician worked in the broadcast station since 1929.




more spacious office space in the Mercury House at Connaught Road. The Mercury House was then home to the broadcast station for 20 years before it moved to the Broadcast Drive in Kowloon Tong in 1969, which since then becomes the permanent home to this Hong Kong official broadcast station. In 1950, the broadcasting responsibility of RHK was transferred from the Post Office to the Public Relations Office, and, for the first time, broadcasting was regarded as a cultural affair instead of merely a telecommunication. In 1954, RHK was finally turned to an independent government department. Arrival of the First Commercial Radio In the immediate post-war years, though greater demand of broadcasting service was needed in the expanding city which received non-stop influx of refugees from the war-torn China, colonial government’s financial situation was far less than sufficient to improve or expand its broadcasting services. Against such background, in 1949, a competitor to RHK came to the territory—the Rediffusion (麗的呼聲). Instead of expanding RHK service, the government invited an additional player to the field. The exclusive wired broadcasting service license issued to the Rediffusion by the colonial government was in 1948–1973, under the Telecommunication Ordinance. Rediffusion was a broadcast station originated in the UK in the 1920s, introducing civil radio services (primarily for relaying BBC service to areas with poor receiving signals), renting and selling radio devices and manufacturing naval telecommunications. In the post-war era, the Broadcast Relay Service (Overseas) Limited, the parent company of Rediffusion, expanded its business to a number of British overseas colonies, including Hong Kong. While the license fee of RHK was 10 dollars per year, the fee for Rediffusion’s radio service was 10 per month plus the 25-dollar installation fee. It is not difficult to conclude that only the elite class in the city could afford listening to this new broadcasting service. Before the entering of Rediffusion, RHK, the official broadcast station in Hong Kong, mostly relayed news from BBC and news from the ­government bureau. By entering this still quiet market, Rediffusion competed with RHK by airing a series of enchanting and entertaining programs. “Sky novel” (天空小說)—a vivid description of broadcast programs that featured narrating novels in air time by anchors—became an important marketing strategy of Rediffusion. This later proved successful broad-



casting strategy, which is also called “broadcast soap opera” (廣播劇), became one of the broadcasting cultural hallmarks in Hong Kong. Today, “broadcast soap opera” is still popular in the society. In Rediffusion, prominent novel narrators included “king of broadcast” Chung Wai-ming (鍾偉明) and the well-received founding father of “sky novel” Lee Ngo (李我). Lee first started his career in Guangzhou and later he moved to Hong Kong under enthusiastic invitation from Rediffusion staff. Following the fad of “sky novel”, subscribers of Rediffusion reached 30,000 in its first year. Broadcasting Language and Fermentation of Cultural Taste Multi-language broadcast in RHK continued in the post-war period until the 1960s. As part of the governmental department, RHK’s daily news bulletin was provided by the governmental news office. Entertainment programs were enriched in the post-war era, as a way to rebuild the telecommunication culture and to boost population’s morale. It is said that cultural professionals, such as Cantonese opera performers, singers, drama performers and comedians, were more than willing to contribute to this thriving industry, though without much monetary rewards, in order to serve the public. Outdoor broadcasting was popular at that time: horse race, car race and cross-harbor swimming contest were live aired. By then, a telecommunication culture was gradually cultivated in the society. Similarly, Rediffusion in 1956 also adopted the multi-language strategy. Besides the original two channels (Silver and Blue), its third channel (also known as “Golden channel”) broadcasted news in Mandarin, Teochew, Shanghainese and some other languages. Its original channels remained the Cantonese (Silver) and English (blue). Until the 1970s, according to the government record in 1973, Rediffusion radio still distributed 17 hours Cantonese programs through the Silver channel, and through the Golden channel programs were aired in Swatowese (11 hours), Mandarin (3 hour), Shanghainese (2 hour), Hakka (1 hour) as well as educational English lessons.3 In the 1950s, the air time of Rediffusion was 17 hours per day. According to senior members of Rediffusion, in order to compete with RHK, a large group of talents were recruited to the station to enlighten broadcasting programs, such as programs tailor-made for children, sky 3

 PRO file: XCC (73)19 in HKRS261-3-57 ~ 58.



novels, night club music programs, western music billboard, live stock market and so on. “In Christmas we received lots of cards and presents among which some were even sent by listeners from Southeast Asia”.4 In that time, one among four Hong Kong citizens listened to Rediffusion (Chin 2008, p. 32).5 Not only did ordinary families subscribe to Rediffusion for leisure, but also a large number of street herbal tea shops installed radio devices to attract customers. What will be illustrated in Chaps. 6 and 7—Cantopop chapters—is that, in the days when portable entertainment devices were in scarcity, public space like herbal tea shops became an important domain for ordinary citizens to enjoy popular culture. And it was also due to such organic interwoven encounter between human, space and broadcasting programs—a well-extended intangible platform—that a post-war mass cultural “Hong Kong taste” was fermented and formulated. The ways that sky novel narrators talked, the songs (traditional Cantonese opera and fashionable Mandarin songs) and the large sonic sphere to accompany particular broadcast contents, altogether crafted the cultural space in post-­ war Hong Kong. It is said that a series of Hong Kong-style use of language and ways of expression were originated from the broadcast culture back in those days when the general public’s daily life was seamlessly integrated with the mass broadcasting. This set of Hong Kong-origin language use is carried on by contemporary generations in the territory (Chin 2008, p. 26). As a former British colony, English broadcasting marked one of the characteristics of Hong Kong telecommunication industry. English ­channels have played significant roles in terms of enriching citizens’ leisure life and cultural literacy. Since 1928, when Hong Kong broadcast was still disseminated via the GOW signal, English was the only working language. In the 1960s, the English channels, such as Radio 3 of the RHK, facilitated the dissemination of Euro-American popular songs (歐西流行曲), especially among the youngsters who received English education. It was due to the English 4  Excerpt from Hong Kong Memory archive—Oral history of Lee On-kau and Yip Saihung (李安求、葉世雄:香港播音口述歷史) access via http://www.hkmemory.org/jameswong/text/index.php?p=home&catId=147&photoNo=0. 5  Also see Excerpt from Hong Kong Memory archive—Oral history of Lee On-kau and Yip Sai-hung (李安求、葉世雄:香港播音口述歷史) access via http://www.hkmemory.org/ jameswong/text/index.php?p=home&catId=147&photoNo=0.



channels that a large group of popular music lovers were able to access latest musical resources from the Euro-American world when television culture was not yet prevailing. This group of youngsters and music program listeners later became key figures in the city’s cultural industry, inaugurating the dazzling age of Hong Kong popular song development. It was also in the 1960s that the “god father” of Hong Kong English popular music program, Uncle Ray (Ray Cordeiro) commenced his broadcasting career in RHK (more in Chap. 6). Another main function of English channels was promoting classical music. Radio 4 of RHK, an exclusively classical music channel, was founded in 1974. To radio listeners, who were mostly well-educated elites and English population, the English programs became their only source to enjoy classical music. Jazz and other types of Euro-American music genres were added to Radio 4 programs later. In the 1960s, larger ordinary population tuned to RHK Radio 4 for classical music enjoyment, appreciation and education. A variety of music performance, instrument examination guidance and competition were introduced by RHK to further enrich the city’s musical culture (RTHK 2004, pp. 37–40).

Competitive Broadcasting Industry New Company and New Technology In 1954, when RHK became an independent department of the colonial government, the number of RHK subscribers reached more than 50,000, which, however, was very much underestimated.6 And it was clear to the colonial government that the output of the existing services was insufficient to meet the rapidly increasing demand as RHK only served nine hours per day. In addition, audience living in outlying and suburban areas reported poor receiving signals, while the better-functioned wire-service Rediffusion catered to those who could afford the subscription fee. It is interesting to note that, for those living in outlying zones, the competitor 6  In 1967, the number of license issued by RHK reached 180,000 while the department estimated that the actual listeners could be as many as 600,000, making one-fifth of the whole population, which was 3,720,000 in 1967. Considering that broadcast had become a mass culture and information medium, as well as the fierce competition from the Rediffusion, RHK revoked the license in that year to further relax people’s right to enjoy mass communication.



to RHK was not Rediffusion but a station outside of the colony: Radio Vila Verde (綠邨電台) from Macao. To meet the city’s escalating demand, soon after, another broadcast license was granted to the Hong Kong Commercial Radio Co (CR). Two commercial broadcasting service providers: Rediffusion and the Commercial Radio were required to limit their advertisement air time to 10%, while RHK was not allowed to derive revenue from commercial advertisement. As Rediffusion challenged the RHK-monopoly simply as the city’s second broadcast provider and a market-share competitor, CR confronted the two existing broadcast stations with arresting cultural contents second to none (more discussion below). By then, RHK met more dynamic challenges. Besides the launch of the third broadcast station, CR provided a larger variety of programs to listeners and thus changed the city’s broadcast landscape. The arrival of a new technology also led to new challenges to broadcast organizations. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a vital technological invention radically changed the broadcasting culture—handy/pocketable palm-size transistor radio set. Noteworthy is that, it was also in the same period that Hong Kong, as an all-time port city, became the world’s most important transistor radio manufacturing base as Japanese leading electronic brands contracted most of their radio-set assembling forces to Hong Kong’s burgeoning small-­ medium-­size manufacturing firms. Transistor radio sets were then in huge quantity exported to Europe and North America, and this innovative gadget also rapidly became extremely popular among Hong Kong citizens.7 Doubtlessly, this new technology changed people’s listening habit and thus transformed the ecology of Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry. Radio listening became a more personalized activity, which drove broadcast providers invest larger energy and resource to cater people’s more diverse needs. The introduction and popularity of transistor radio not only exposed challenge to RHK, but also, more seriously, led to the slow demise of Rediffusion which had always relied on wired transmission technology and 7  Information about the development of Hong Kong’s transistor radio assembling industry and the rising of local electronic corporations, see “The Design of Radios and Music Players in Japan from the 1950s to the 1970s—Hong Kong link” via https://industrialhistoryhk. org/design-radios-music-players-japan-1950s-1970s/ and “Transistor radio manufacturers in Hong Kong” via https://industrialhistoryhk.org/transistor-radio-manufacturers-1963/. Information was obtained from The Industrial History of Hong Kong Group.



charged high subscription fee. The huge convenience, as well as the icon of fashion brought along with transistor radio outshined the old-fashion family-oriented radio-listening experience introduced by Rediffusion. Rediffusion then eventually terminated its radio service in 1973 while broadcasting service of RHK and the Commercial Radio lasted until today. But actually, Rediffusion introduced to the territory its first ever television service in 1957. More discussion will follow soon. Golden Age of Broadcast Soap Opera Facing the cascading challenges, RHK had to quicken the pace of innovation on both programming and technology. For example, inspired by the American classic broadcast drama about the invading Martians, which triggered mass panic, the RHK made a similar broadcast program on the similar topic “Invasion of Martians (火星進攻地球)” in 1961. Narrated by a number of popular anchors, the drama was acted vividly accompanied by well-tuned sci-fi sonic effects.8 By that time, broadcast soap operas that featured a large variety of topics and genres, derived from Rediffusion’s “sky novel”, outstood among all programs. And this popular broadcasting genre became the winning chip for three broadcasting organizations in the increasingly convoluting market competition. The period of late 1960s and early 1980s marked the golden age of broadcast soap opera. According to a senior RHK staff, 51 dramas (half hour for each) were broadcasted per week in RHK in the early 1970s (RTHK 2004, pp. 27–28). To vividly represent Hong Kong people’s daily life, kitchen wares were brought into RHK studios to accompany the performance of a broadcast soap opera that narrates stories of cooks. Well-­ received broadcast soap opera scripts were even adapted into films. Popular broadcasters became superstars. Some of them even appeared in films which were adopted from broadcast soap operas, such as Lee Ngo, Lam Bun 林彬, Chung Wai-ming and so on (RTHK 2004, pp. 24–25). As mentioned, the birth of the CR in 1959 led Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry to a new era. CR was founded by George Ho (何佐芝), one of the inheritors of Hong Kong’s business tycoon Sir Robert Hotung. The establishment of CR first shook the broadcasting industry as a group 8  Archive of radio drama could be accessed via http://rthk9.rthk.hk/radiodrama/index. htm.



of broadcast talents left their original station and moved to CR for more competitive income. Targeting young audience market, CR then marched into the market with hoisted banner featuring its diverse and effervescent broadcast soap opera. Branded as a representative of the city’s rising local youth, CR broadcasted thoroughly in Cantonese. The fresh and young image of CR soon got rewarding. In the first a few years, the channel CR 1 performed better than expected as advertisement income was affluent. In 1963, channel CR 2 was launched. With two Cantonese channels, the CR not only broadcasted sky novels as other stations did, but also introduced a DJ (disk jockey) culture in their music programs. A group of young, energetic and virtuoso DJs who on the one hand presented to the wide audience group a vigorous popular music landscape home and abroad. On the other hand, DJs themselves, with their own style of music interpretation and sense of world vogue, became superstars especially among young audience. Some of them later became famous singers, actors and even key figures in Hong Kong’s popular cultural industry. Their names included but not limited to: Albert Au (歐瑞 強), Lawrence Cheng Tan Shui (鄭丹瑞), Pamela Peck Wan Kam (白韻琴) and a lot more. Compared to the long-established RHK and Rediffusion, CR represented a fresh wave of Hong Kong’s popular culture by introducing various innovations in broadcasting programs. Besides the mentioned DJ-anchored music programs, broadcast soap operas made a significant proportion in CR’s air time. The signature of CR’s broadcast soap opera, the “18/F Block C (十八樓C座)” became an all-time classic of Hong Kong’s broadcast culture. Until today, 18/F Block C is still on-air, making it the program that enjoys the most longevity in Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry. Another breakthrough of this situation-comedy like program was its social implication: satires over public affairs were embedded in situation comedies in the setting of Hong Kong ordinary citizens’ daily life. This program was actually a continuation of another two CR satire dramas launched against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s 1967 riot, a watershed of Hong Kong’s post-war social development. Noteworthy is that, the two satire drama programs that criticized sabotaging actions committed by extremist leftists during the riot caused unexpected severe consequence: a CR popular anchor, Lam Bun, who was starred at these programs, was attacked with Molotov Cocktail on his way to work on August 24, 1967, and died from it one day after. It is revealed that the CR had for a long time been an enemy to the left camp for it had been known for harsh criti-



cism and condemnation over the “anti-imperialist actions” and Lam Bun (served in a left-camp film company before) was despised by the left camp as a traitor to the nation. This tragedy stirred wide echoes among the society and further drove the left-camp alienated from the mass population (Cheung 2009, pp. 115–120). The 1967 riot along with the post-1967 riot social change in terms of the local governance and the sense of belonging among the mass population significantly crafted the territory’s future. Besides series of well-­ developed news programs and entertaining programs in English and Chinese, programs that unveiled social problems and criticized local affairs (discussion forums) thus became another mainstream of Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry. This tidal wave spread from broadcast to television as well, bringing forth television episodes of the similar genre such as Below the Lion Rocks/Shizi Shanxia 獅子山下 series—a prominent local television docudrama program depicting the daily life of Hong Kong’s underprivileged. The program was produced by the RTHK (RHK was later named Radio Television Hong Kong when the society entered the era of television) and became a mirror of the Hong Kong society in the 1970s. The formation of the Lung Cheung opera company (香港電台龍翔劇 團) in 1968 marked another breakthrough of RHK which faced constant challenges from new programs and new technologies. The wish to boost people’s morale after the 1967 riot was part of the reason behind the formation of this amateur troupe. Broadcasters were trained by professional Cantonese opera performers to give a new face to the mass audience. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Cantonese opera still dominated mass population’s leisure time, while English and Mandarin popular songs were only prevalent among a small proportion of elite class. Outdoor performances became the common practice for Lung Cheung to increase public exposure, thus to entice more audience to support RHK. Besides Cantonese opera performance, outdoor activities included live broadcast in special occasions, such as the annual Hong Kong Brands and Products Expo. Audience Survey In the late 1960s, it was realized that little factual evidence about RHK’s audience was ever gauged. To better plan the future of government broadcasting, the Director of Broadcasting (Mr. D. E. Brooks) recommended



an audience survey for RHK in 1965.9 It was seriously noted that RHK was of great importance to disseminate government information especially during emergency. To obtain wider support from the mass audience, a radio station must produce programs that to the best degree appeal to them. The most effective and economic way to know the answer is audience survey. Especially that when the cheap and handy transistor radio set was gradually gaining popularity among the mass population, the broadcasting department felt the urge to know “the size and shape of the new audience this has produced”. And they also had predicted that “in the near future the audience is sure to be changed again by the impact of wireless television”. The survey was expected to provide the below information: • The role played by radio in people’s lives and the way in which this role is changing as TV viewing increases; • The importance of radio (i) as a source of news and information and (ii) as a source of entertainment; • The times at which people listen to the radio; • The relative popularity of different types of programs; • The “image” of Radio Hong Kong and how it differs from that of Commercial Radio.10 In 1969, the survey was completed with results obtained from a sample of 2000 Chinese listeners based on Chinese language programs on RHK and CR. Results showed that radio played the role as a Chinese communicator, informer and entertainer as radio reached nine out of ten homes in Hong Kong and was the single most important medium of communication in Chinese in the colony. News programs in non-Cantonese language attracted very few listeners and encouraged Cantonese listeners in large numbers either to switch off or tune elsewhere. Moreover, it was reported that there was strong evidence that the inclusion of a considerable volume of non-Cantonese Chinese music in RHK’s services reduced the station’s attraction as an entertainer. This was regarded as an attribution to RHK’s less popularity compared to Commercial Radio. Too much attempts in minority languages and minority interest programs had automatically led to the exclusion of programs that were supposed to attract larger audience  PRO 670/1-3 Broadcasting—holding by Radio HK & Audience Research Surveys.  Discussion on April 9, 1968, XCR(68)91—Memorandum for Executive Council: Radio Hong Kong Audience Survey. PRO 670/1-3. 9




group. Generally speaking, CR presented a lively image and RHK was deemed as a neutral educator and informer.11 Given to all these, the Director of Broadcasting proposed to make adjustments over the programming of RHK: • Abandon entirely the use of Chiuchow (also called Teochew) and Hakka languages for news bulletins; • Reduce the number of Kuoyu (Mandarin Chinese) news bulletins and broadcasting these on FM only, so do broadcast programs for minority interests; • Abandon entirely the broadcasting of entertainment program materials, which are not generic to Kwangtung (Guangdong) Province or present-day Hong Kong; • Introduce more popular themes into broadcast and facilitate the building up of star performers; • Deploy Cantonese staff announcers to other duties and replace them with contract announcers having more attractive voices and personalities; • Reduce the quantity but improve the effectiveness of programs dealing with government affairs as the survey results indicated that there probably a surplus of government information in broadcast services, which led to a suppressing instead of encouraging people’s interest in the government; • Little change of the establishment or finance would be implemented other than employment restructuration of the non-Cantonese broadcast staffs. RHK should increase the size of its audience whilst at the same time enabled minority (other than linguistic) interests to continue to be served.12 Consequently, as a way to improve the image of RHK as a communicator between the colonial government and the general public, Hong Kong’s first “phone-in” public affairs discussion program was launched in 1969 by RHK—during the air time, ordinary citizens called the hotline and 11  XCR(69)94 Note for the Executive Council and Legislative Council: Radio Hong Kong Chinese Programme Audience Research. PRO 670/1-3. 12  Discussion on July 10, 1969, XCR(69)45 Memorandum for Executive Council: Radio Hong Kong Chinese and English Programme Audience Research. PRO 670/1-3.



voiced out their opinion publicly. Since then, public affairs discussion programs became a significant genre in Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry as well as the later television culture (Lee 2002). Contents of “phone-in” programs also changed throughout different periods of time: people tended to care much about everyday living conditions such as housing and hygiene problems in the 1970s while their attention shifted to the future of Hong Kong in the 1980s. In the 1971 survey, however, the number of radio listeners dropped from 71% among the population in 1968 to 49% in only a few years. On the other hand, the number of television audience rose from 25% to 70%. Factual evidence had shown that television was bouncing in the industry to extend human beings’ sensual enjoyment from audio- to audio-visual-­ based entertainment (Chin 2008, p. 63). Since the 1960s, listening to broadcasting via handy devices became a new fashion to ordinary people. Even though the first wired television station—Rediffusion—landed on the territory in 1957 with English and Mandarin programs televised four hours daily, radio listening remained the major entertainment among the mass population in their leisure time. Professionals and hawkers, educated and illiterate, living on the land or on boats, relied on the square boxes to get informed and amused. As the only sound-mediated mass communication channel, broadcasting in Hong Kong covered a wide range of ordinary business to serve the mass population who were from diverse social and educational backgrounds. Weather forecast of local and off-shore zones was of particular importance to fishermen. Programs tailor-made for boat people, covering fish market information, water farming knowledge and song programs were of extremely popularity. Wet market bulletin and recipes were broadcasted via the air as well to serve the large group of housewives. Sky novels ranged from romantic fantasies, detective plots, martial art folklores and children’s stories were indispensable leisure to the mass audience. Stories were adapted to Guangdong and Hong Kong style by adding local elements in order to be more appealing. Virtuoso performing techniques were innovated by a large group of broadcasting talents who collectively shape the Hong Kong local cultural taste (Image 4.1).



Image 4.1  Citizens living at rural Wang Toi Shan area. An image shows in 1962, villagers harvested spring onions in Wang Toi Shan of Pat Heung—northwest of Hong Kong at the border of mainland China, while listening to broadcast on transistor radio which could be found at bottom left. (Courtesy to Special Collections, The University of Hong Kong Libraries)

Entering the Age of Television First Television Station in the City During 1955–1956, Rediffusion had already been experimenting wired television service and in 1956 applied for a license from the government to operate a wired television service. When Rediffusion submitted its application, it was at first considered by the government that the right to operate the service should be offered to public tender. Later another concern was raised: if any other company obtained the license, the distribution of an audio signal associated with the video signal would infringe Rediffusion’s exclusive right of disseminating wired sound service license. In March 1957, Rediffusion was granted an exclusive license under the Telecommunication Ordinance to operate a wired television service. The license would expire on April 30, 1973, and did not contain the right of



renewal. Since then, Rediffusion became the first television service in Hong Kong and even the first among the global Sinophone society. Rediffusion Television (麗的映聲) kicked off its service on May 29, 1957, drawing on the curtain of Hong Kong’s television culture, which, in the later ages, similar to the film industry, brought the kaleidoscopic Hong Kong urban life to the world. The operation of Rediffusion TV was commercial driven similar to its radio service. Revenue was obtained from advertising and subscription fee, while no royalty was payable by the company to the government. The license empowered the Director of Information Services to exercise limited control over the TV station’s program contents and the company was required to maintain its technical facilities to the satisfaction of the Postmaster General. In the beginning years, only one English channel was aired from Rediffusion. English news and classic English films were the major air-time components which were slightly supplemented with Mandarin “shi dai qu” performance. Programs were transmitted four hours daily. Rediffusion charged each household 25  dollars per month for subscription, plus household TV set installation fee and equipment rental fee. Due to the expensive subscription fee (at that time, the average monthly wage of working class was 100 dollars) and linguistic limitation, Rediffusion television service was far less popular than radio programs among the mass population. According to a survey report from Rediffusion, though the company had invested more than 2 million dollars to develop the most fitted technology for signal transmission as Hong Kong’s mountainous terrain brought grave technological challenge to the company, the television service subscription was less than expected. During the first few months after its inauguration, there were around 1000 household subscribers. Among them, 538 were Cantonese speakers, 346 English speakers, 39 Mandarin speakers, 6 Teochew speakers and the rest of them were public commercial entities such as club-house, tea-­ house, nigh-clubs and so on. However, there were never more than 6000 subscribers until the 1960s. Rediffusion TV programs included news bulletin, music and sports programs as well as past movies (mostly in Cantonese and Teochew languages) (Tai Kung Pao 1957 August 25). In September 1963, Rediffusion added a Chinese channel, leading to a stark increase of audience. Another breakthrough was that the TV station started to dub Cantonese on its programs especially on imported foreign-­ language programs. The station also started producing their own p ­ rograms,



mainly cultural and leisure genres such as women’s life, music performance and vanity fairs. A Hong Kong local well-known actress, Leung Shun-yin (梁舜燕) was among the very first small group of television hosts in Hong Kong who kicked off their television career from Rediffusion. She hosted leisure programs such as women’s life and was elected “the most popular actress”. The election was also among those content innovation trials taken by Rediffusion. In September 1962, Hong Kong was seriously attacked by a devastating typhoon “Wanda” which caused over a hundred casualties. For the first time, held by Rediffusion, Hong Kong had its charity fund-raising concert, staging performers from different arenas, Cantonese opera performers, TV stars and radio station DJs. When Hong Kong thoroughly entered its blossoming television age, televised fundraising show became one of the most well-received variety show genres, which, interestingly, later was even turned into a Hong Kong television cultural hallmark. While Rediffusion TV enjoyed its market-monopoly privilege for ten years, following the establishment of the wireless television, TVB, in 1967, it had to cut the subscription fee and largely renovated the programming to survive in the competition. In 1973, subscribers of Rediffusion TV reached over 100,000 (Ng 2003, p. 5). According to a survey, which was part of the “Working Party Report on the Future of Broadcasting” carried out by Survey Research Hong Kong in 1971 on behalf of RHK, it shows a stark increasing of wireless set and dual-purpose sets in households (Table 4.2).

Table 4.2  Number of household TV set Wireless Set

Wired Set

Dual-Purpose Set


% of Total Households

72,000 67,800 39,000 50,000

23,000 40,700 58,000 69,000

101,000 226,300 329,000 494,000

13% 30% 41% 61%



Jan 1968 Jan 1969 Jan 1970 Jan 1971

6000 117,800 232,000 375,000

May 1971

Re-assessment based on 1971 census

Information is collected from PRO file—HKRS261-3-54, the “Working Party Report on the Future of Broadcasting” which is annexed to Executive Council discussion file XCC(72)14



Notes on the Role of Hong Kong Television It is always thought-provoking if we could take a glimpse into the behind-­ the-­scene rationale of different business, and television service is of no exception. As addressed in the same report, the working party affirmed and highlighted that the role of television in the territory was mainly provision of entertainment. As Hong Kong’s then television stations were all commercial-based, the requirement that broadcast licensees “maintain a proper balance in their subject matter and a high general standard of quality” (as in the Television Ordinance) actually implied the provision of entertainment programs which should be as diverse in type and style as possible. However, while people in the UK had enjoyed high-quality public service broadcasting from BBC, as part of the crown colony, whether Hong Kong shall be granted the “alternatives” was under debate. According to the report, some stakeholders had proposed that a non-commercial public broadcast should be provided to Hong Kong audience as a way to actualize the educationally, morally, sociologically or politically public role of television in the larger community. Reasons in support of public service broadcasting include the need of public interest, overseas successful experience and the importance of preserving and developing local culture through a wide range of programming. However, objections were presented based on assumptions that non-commercial practice was merely in theory and Hong Kong audience remained at a low level for choosing their programs did not display a foreseeable future for public service broadcasting. It was said that currently Hong Kong audience were satisfied with the service provided by RHK in terms of diversity and quality of program. Therefore, an alternative public service broadcasting channel was unnecessary. Such worries and obstacles in establishing a total public service broadcasting system, retrospectively, show the short-sightedness of the colonial government and hesitation on developing local culture in the early 1970s. It is interesting to note that the 1970s has been widely regarded as an era that the founding stone of Hong Kong identity and local culture was laid thanks to the changing governance mind-set in the colonial government. However, from the historical documents, dynamics remained to be further unveiled.



First Wireless Television Between 1957 and 1960, a number of commercial organizations applied to the government for a license to establish the territory’s second television station. According to the above report on the future of broadcast in 1971, the working party, in 1960, actually recommended that a public corporation should be established to take over RHK and run a television service financed by commercial advertisements and managed by a consortium of commercial television management consultants. The proposal was declined, and a decision was made that a wireless television should be operated by commercial interests. In 1965, after a public tendering, a license was granted under the Television Ordinance to TVB (Television Broadcasts Limited). As Hong Kong’s first wireless television broadcasting service, the Chinese name of TVB suggested its landmark status in Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry. Its Chinese name “無線電視” literally means wireless television. The license granted the company an exclusive right to operate a wireless television service for five years from November 19, 1967. Thereafter, the license would be renewable every five years on a non-exclusive basis until November 1982. TVB operates both Chinese and English language channels—TVB Jade and TVB Pearl. Similar to Rediffusion Television, revenue was derived from advertisements which were limited to overall 10% of transmission time in any period of 24 hours. A royalty of 10% of gross takings would be paid to the government. The share of TVB was composed by capitals from local Hong Kong tycoons and foreign investors, mainly from the United States and UK. According to a confidential note delivered to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK, information about shareholders of TVB was disclosed in the mid of conflicts between Rediffusion and TVB on the sharing of signal transmitter.13 Anglia (UK) 11% Butterfield and Swire (UK) 5% Gilmans 5% Eu Family (Hong Kong) 5% EMI (UK) 10% Hongkong & Shanghai Bank (UK) 10.5% Hutchison (UK) 10.5% 13  PRO file: HKRS261-3-54, the “Working Party Report on the Future of Broadcasting” is annexed to Executive Council discussion file XCC(72)14.



National Broadcasting Company (NBC) (United States) 12.5% Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong) 5% Time Life (United States) 12.5% Minorities 13%

It was said that TVB represented the American lifestyle as one of the shareholders are the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) from the United States. While in fact, what seemed most challenging to Rediffusion was seldom the American style, but TVB’s “free of charge”. Compared to the 25  dollars monthly subscription fee charged by Rediffusion, TVB offered a much more tempting choice. Given to this, Rediffusion lowered the monthly fee from 25 to 20 dollars. Following the setting up of Hong Kong’s first free-of-charge wireless television, TVB, and the price cutting by Rediffusion, the number of household television among Hong Kong local families skyrocketed. In 1974, among the total 850,000 families in the territory, 780,000 already possessed their own TV sets (Ng 2003, pp. 6–7). The fierce competition between two television stations and people’s escalating obsession by television programs drove the significant progress of Hong Kong’s television culture. Innovative programs such as televised general knowledge contest shows and evening variety shows were launched. EYT, short for the “Enjoy Yourself Tonight” (EYT, Huanle Jinxiao 歡樂 今宵) was the signature program of TVB. It was also a Hong Kong local program that enjoyed the most longevity: by the closing date on October 15, 1994, EYT already had broadcasted 6613 episodes. As the most significant show that presented the new television station to Hong Kong people, EYT was aired immediately after the opening day of TVB in November 1967. In a strong contrast to Hong Kong’s social crisis, the 1967 riot at that time, the joy and laughter projected from EYT brought to people a silver lining against that particular social context. Introduced by then general manager of TVB, Mr. Colin Bendall, this program was adopted from an Australia variety show “In Melbourne Tonight” and was localized by director Robert Chua (蔡和平) by adding Hong Kong-style on-stage comedies and games. Robert Chua, a Chinese Singaporean, used to work in the television industry in Australia. When he was appointed to take charge of orchestrating EYT, he was only 21 years’ old. After his arrival in Hong Kong, he spent five months wandering around local communities and talking to people of different social classes. By doing this,



Robert Chua successfully integrated Hong Kong sense of living into this adapted television program (RTHK 2004, pp. 49–50). A gateway to Hong Kong’s television stage, EYT had starred a large group of stars from various backgrounds: film stars turned television actors, novice singers, Kung Fu players (e.g. Bruce Lee), popular broadcasting anchors (e.g. Tam Ping Man 譚炳文) and many more. Through staging on EYT, they were widely exposed to Hong Kong’s mass ordinary audience and soon gained wide popularity. Noteworthy is that, at the beginning of the 1970s when the Cantonese film industry hit the rock bottom, a large group of Cantonese film stars diverted their career to the television industry through the EYT platform to re-shape the image and regain their reputation. On-screen stars who experienced this career transition included household names such as Lydia Shum (沈殿霞), Cheng Kwan-min (鄭君綿) and Helena Law Lan (羅蘭). The significance of EYT reached beyond TVB and the television business, turning into a social barometer. In June 1972, a destructive landslide in east Kowloon caused over a hundred casualties. EYT held a phenomenal charity fund-raising show that gathered almost all local stars and raised 9 million Hong Kong dollars, a record-breaking record compared to previous Rediffusion shows (Ng 2003, pp. 46–47). Yam Kim-fai and Chan Po-chu, the crowned duo of Cantonese opera, had their last public performance during the show. The legendary duo presented Princess Changping, a classic Cantonese opera repertoire that has shimmered in Hong Kong’s cultural history. TVB’s social impact furthered in the same year. On August 2, 1972, the opening ceremony of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, city’s first harbor-­ crossing tunnel, featured government officials and a female star—Lydia Shum. One of the leading hosts of EYT, Shum, waved to cameras on a motor that ran second to the Governor’s (Ng 2003, pp. 51–58).14 This landmark moment epitomized TVB had quietly took over the pioneer role in Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry. The theme song of YET was adapted from an equally joyful light-jazz-­ style English song Enjoy Yourself, It’s Later Than You Think. In line with the theme from the original song that conveys “You work and work for years and years, you’re always on the go; You never take a minute off, too busy makin’ dough; Someday you say, you’ll have  A chronological development of EYT and its social engagement.




your fun, when you’re a millionaire; Imagine all the fun you’ll have in your old rockin’ chair”, the Chinese version EYT song depicted the down-to-­ earth daily life and desire of Hong Kong working class by chanting “you keep working in the daytime, but now after dinner it is time to relax. TVB presents you good programs to enjoy the night”. (日頭猛做, 到依家輕鬆下, 食過晚飯, 要休息番一陣。大家暢敘, 無線有好節目)

In 1970, TVB kicked off its first color-televised live-broadcast “EYT”. Since then, Hong Kong entered the age of color TV. And it was also due to the invincible success of TVB that forced Rediffusion transformed into a wireless broadcast to win back the lost audience base. Rediffusion (麗的 映聲, Video and sound of Rediffusion) was renamed into RTV (麗的電視, television of Rediffusion) in 1973. The 1970s marked an age of saturation with sound and video culture—the peak of radio culture and the mushrooming television culture.

TV Drama Culture and Hong Kong Local Culture Industrial Pioneer—Jade Theater In the 1950s, Rediffusion mainly relied on imported foreign television programs and old films to fill the air time. Along with regular news bulletin, only a small number of self-produced cultural programs existed. Similarly, in the inception period, TVB also purchased foreign television dramas. Soap operas included those from the United States and Japan where the television industry was more advanced than in Hong Kong. That being said, the importation of foreign programs provided job opportunities to broadcasters who left radio stations and joined the television industry. They became Cantonese voice actors in American and Japanese soap operas and cartoons. As Cantonese dubbed soap operas soon got popularity, Cantonese theme songs later were also added to complete the “localization” process. Even though TVB soon developed their virtuoso TV programs ranging from news broadcast, soap operas and variety shows to educational programs, imported television dramas/cartoons dubbed in Cantonese along with a Cantonese-version theme song still played a crucial part of Hong Kong television culture. Gradually, television theme song turned to an equally important part in the television industry. What will be elaborated in Chap. 6 is that, television theme song composition once was an experimental field to a group of



talented Hong Kong musicians and lyrists, who took innovative trials by fusing western and Chinese musical elements in creating theme songs for soap operas in different genres. These trials turned out to be the groundbreaking pieces that led Hong Kong’s popular music realm into a new chapter—the age of Cantopop. Cantopop means songs in western pop editing/arranging while sung in Hong Kong’s language, Cantonese— more elaboration will be in Chap. 6. Though theme songs and soap operas in Hong Kong’s television culture varied in a wide array, in its sprouting stage, orthodox genres in Hong Kong’s moving image culture—romance and sword-fighting—were the most common type used by producers to secure viewership. It was until the late 1960s that Hong Kong’s local production of television soap opera was commenced. TVB invited professional television producer Chung King-fai (鍾景輝) who used to study media production in New York and was then teaching media subjects in the Baptist College, to take part in their television production projects. Soon, TVB Jade launched the city’s first soap opera program in their prime time—“Jade Theater” (翡翠劇場), which featured a series of costume soap operas, mainly romantic stories in the context of the pre-World War II (WWII). People call this type of costume drama the “dramas of early Republican China” (民初劇). As Hong Kong’s television industry was still at its inception stage, TVB and Shaw Brothers co-organized training courses for potential performers. Household names such as Chow Yun-fat, Ng Mang Tat (吳孟達) and Lo Hoi Pang (盧海鵬) are still active in film and television industry or in charity business. Besides taking professional actors from their own training classes, TVB largely absorbed television performers from the descending Cantonese film industry. Discussed in Chap. 2 that since the late 1960s, Cantonese films were seriously challenged by the high-quality Mandarin films produced in epically grandiose scale. At the very beginning of the 1970s, the number of Cantonese film production dropped to its lowest point and the whole film industry in the territory was dominated by Mandarin productions. The crisis in Cantonese film production forced a large group of actors seek alternatives, and the rising new industry—television was a tempting new path. In this film-television transition trend, a typical case was Adam Cheng (鄭少秋). He started his career as a Kung Fu actor in Cantonese films, while encountered serious career downturn amid the serious secession of



Cantonese film industry in the end of the 1960s. Discovered by Robert Chua, the director of EYT in TVB, Adam Cheng was invited to join TVB in 1970. He then had his televised debut in TVB’s brand-named show EYT and later performed in television dramas. His fruitful experience in the Cantonese film industry, especially in swordsman-fighting genre, soon made him protagonists in various prime-time costume dramas. Synergy Effect from TV Dramas and Theme Songs A breakthrough came to Cheng in 1973 as he played the protagonist and sang the theme song in a costume drama Love in the Rain/Yanyu Mengmeng 煙雨濛濛, the ever first locally made color television drama aired at prime time, Monday–Friday. The theme song, as will be elaborated in Chap. 6, symbolized one of the pioneers that laid founding stones in the journey of crafting and framing Hong Kong’s unique type of popular song—Cantopop. Adapted from a romance novel composed by one the most sought-after Taiwanese female novelist Chiung Yao 瓊瑤, the 20-episode television drama Love in the Rain narrated stories of romance and revenge situated in the Republican China era—a pioneer drama of early Republican China. Besides the arresting plots full of twists and turns, this flagship-drama staged a group of popular young and veteran stars (e.g. film star Adam Cheng, “Miss Hong Kong Pageant” awardee Louise Lee (李司棋) and veteran Cantonese film actress Yung Yuk Yi (容玉意)). The theme song Love in the Rain, carrying the same title as the drama itself, was an attention-grabbing work, which later turned a landmark in Hong Kong’s popular music history. As mentioned, musicians in that age took television theme song as experimental works which from time to time sparked unexpected glares. This theme precisely demonstrated such inspiring experimental musical work: poetic lyrics, a fusion of western musical orchestration and Chinese traditional instrument accompaniment, Adam Cheng sang the song in his natural voice which conveyed a hint of melancholy sensation. The song turned out an extraordinarily popular hit, along with the wide-spread television drama, became a talk of town and a trend setter. Since then, Adam Cheng became the icon of local television drama and television theme song. His later involvement in a series of costume dramas and fashion dramas soon became household titles. The synergy effect of television drama and theme song (fusion-style departing from traditional Cantonese operatic singing) that drove the



development of Hong Kong local culture continued to thrive in the 1970s when television culture dominated Hong Kong mass population’s daily life. Classic works include costume dramas such as The Little Li Flying Dagger/Xiaoli Feidao 小李飛刀 (1978), Cho Lau Heung/Chuliu Xiang 楚留香 (1979), and fashion dramas such as A House is Not a Home/Jia Bian 家變 (1977), Crocodile Tear/Eyu Lei 鱷魚淚 (1978) and The Bund/ Shanghai Tan 上海灘 (1980). All of them carry the same title for the drama itself and the theme song. Similar to the practice of Love in the Rain, drama protagonists also took the role as the theme song singer, maximizing the effect of stardom and the brand-name effect of the drama itself. Many of these television dramas starred a group of film turned television stars and talents graduated from TVB’s training school. These household names still linger in today’s Hong Kong society in remembrance of the days the local and refugee families settled in the colonial territory but bound by the television culture. In the 1970s, genres of television drams continued to thrive. Besides the once commonly used romantic stories in the Republican China context, fashion dramas, especially dramas of big family conflicts: A House is Not a Home/Jia Bian 家變 (1977) and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly/ Wangzhongren 網中人 (1979) and so on. These dramas, along with their theme songs, which were performed in pop style with piercing lyrics composed by a number of talented lyricists, consolidated the Hong Kong-style television culture. Cascade of TV Drama Competition Despite that CTV (Commercial Television), which started business in 1975, once stirred tides among the duel between RTV and TVB, the short-live CTV (discuss in the next section) failed to transform the ecology in the television industry. The TV industrial landscape in Hong Kong had seen a TVB-domination. Since the very early stage, RTV was shadowed by TVB’s free-of-charge service. This deficiency lasted even RTV later also launched its free-of-charge wireless broadcasting service. According to senior television professionals, as TVB first entered the wireless broadcasting market, audience, especially the mass grassroot population, were attracted by the convenience and program diversity of TVB and later felt reluctant to re-tune the television set to RTV despite that both of them offered free service (Chin 2008, p. 7) (Table 4.3).



Table 4.3  Annual loss of RTV/ATV Year


1973–1978 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1997–1998

Total loss HKD 350 million HKD 350 million HKD 280 million HKD 330 million HKD 189 million HKD 139 million HKD 88 million HKD 260 million

Source: cited from Ng H 2003, The History of HK Television, p. 91

Ensnared in dire competition and facing TVB’s non-stop well-received TV drama productions, RTV revenged by launching a series of epic productions under the marketing strategic scheme named “Sail Out Thousand Boat” (千帆並舉). The very first work under this scheme was the Good Earth/Dadi Enqing 大地恩情 (1980), an adaptation from a Nobel Literature Prize work The Good Earth composed by American female novelist Pearl Buck. The theme song that carried the same title was penned by lyric talent Lai Siu Tin (黎小田) and performed by Michael Kwan (關正 傑) who was one of the most sought-after singers famous for his honest baritone in many romantic costume dramas and swordsmen-fighting genre dramas. The song, conveying the deep-seated calamity of feudalist rural life and people’s unbearable heaviness in the course of survival, was a milestone hit in the 1980s. Equally enchanting was the epic historical narration in Good Earth’s 70 episodes: Entangled in the epochal social transformation of rural China, throughout the beginning of the twentieth century to the foundation of PRC, characters from different social backgrounds unveiled the blood and flesh in human beings’ life-long struggles. This epic drama proved a beautiful squelch taken by RTV as the finely produced drama touched the nerve of generations of Hong Kong people who had walked through miles of life journeys that were filled with phenomenal blessing and curse as the drama showcased. The tremendous success of Good Earth even forced TVB to abruptly cut the on-going drama Five Easy Pieces/Lunliu Zhuan 輪流轉 (1980). The Five Easy Pieces was originally an 80-episode drama, which, to certain extent, was an equally epic story about social transformation through enchanting narrations of personal histories. The theme song, which was



granted the same title, was sung by one of the most popular male singers Adam Cheng and was written by Hong Kong’s most talented composer-­ lyricist duo Joseph Koo (顧家煇) and James Wong (黃霑). However, in this cruel duel, for the first time TV drama of TVB was outshined by RTV. In the decades afterwards as only RTV (later named ATV) and TVB remained the only two broadcasting services in Hong Kong, similar stimulation-­reaction strategy was repeatedly utilized by TVB against the rivalry. For instance, in 1994, when ATV launched its infotainment program Hong Kong Today/Jinri Dizhen Di (今日睇真D) in which local and global social news and anecdotes were seasoned by a group of talented anchors, after a few months TVB soon responded with a similar program named Focus On Focus/Chenshi Zhuiji (城市追擊) anchored by prominent stars such as James Wong and Anderson Junior (安德尊). The Short-Lived But GroundBreaking CTV It is widely regarded that the most significant contribution of CTV was the fact that it was the first television station that produced martial art costume dramas. The aforementioned household titles of swordsmen-­ fighting dramas such as Little Li Flying Dagger/Xiaoli Feidao 小李飛刀 (1978) and Cho Lau Heung/Chuliu Xiang 楚留香 (1979) were all followers of CTV.  CTV’s first martial art costume drama was released in 1976, only three years after TVB launched the city’s first TV drama in 1973. As the city-wide TV drama creation was still at its sprouting phase and most of the TV producers would rather play safe by shooting romance costume dramas, CTV took the baton to draw upon the curtain of Hong Kong’s martial art TV culture. In the following decades, similar to the impact and energy generated from Hong Kong martial art films, Hong Kong’s martial art dramas became another important cultural asset that makes “worlding” Hong Kong culture. In 1973, to introduce more competitors to the wireless television service field, another new television channel was launched under the decision that the Hong Kong government released its second and third wireless television licenses. Among these two new licenses, Rediffusion was granted the Chinese-English dual-language channel and the Commercial Television (CTV, 佳藝電視) got the license to televise a single Chinese channel. The duration of the license was 15 years until 1980. In 1973, RTV launched its free-of-charge wireless broadcasting and in 1975 CTV broadcasted the Chinese service. The mid-1970s marked a special period that Hong Kong



marched giant steps into the age of television with provision of more diverse choice of local-language television service. Noteworthy is that, in the context that CTV was granted the broadcast license, it was the first time that Chinese officials were included in the licensee tender selection committee, which for a long time had been westerner-dominated.15 This change further buttressed the formulation and consolidation of Hong Kong’s local television culture. The logo of CTV was a hexagon that represented six Confucius core subjects (etiquette, music, shooting, horse riding, literature and mathematics/「禮、樂、射、御、書、數」) and the six major shareholders, including Chinese and British tycoons, such as Hang Seng Bank, the Jardine Matheson, newspaper groups including Sing Tao Daily, Hwa Kiu Daily and Kung Sheung Daily and the Commercial Radio. Among them, the Commercial Radio owned by George Ho was mainly responsible for CTV’s daily operation. The headquarters of CTV was located at the Broadcast Drive at Kowloon Tong, along with other four broadcasting stations, making this hill the heart of Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry. To note that, the establishment of CTV and its later sudden closure remained an elusive puzzle in Hong Kong’s television industry. A number of born deficiencies carried by CTV, at the first place, already left this new born entity in a disadvantageous corner in the market. Though painstaking efforts were exerted to keep CTV survive, it could never elude from its heartbreaking demise. It is understood that education programs embedded in CTV directly led to its final tragedy. Granted the license to provide free television service, CTV was on the other required to broadcasting educational television programs in prime time every night between 9:30 and 11:20. The rationale behind education program was dated back to 1968, one year after the 1967 riot that the colonial government realized the need to improve people’s living condition. Under this backdrop, elevating Hong Kong’s mass education quality was one of the important taskforces. Broadcasting educational programs on television was then considered an effective way to promote mass education, as by that time television had become a daily mass communication channel. The education department soon launched its education television unit, which started producing relevant programs in 1971. Before the coming of CTV, TVB and RTV  PRO File: XCC(73)27 in HKRS261-3-57~58.




already broadcasted educational programs eight hours daily. Programs being televised included general subjects (Chinese, mathematics) of primary and secondary school levels. However, being commercial broadcasting companies, TVB and RTV were reluctant to sacrifice prime-time viewership for the sake of airing education programs. It was also against such background that CTV was granted the license on condition that educational programs should be broadcasted in daily prime time. Yet such arrangement soon caused adverse consequence to the television station. Bearing the above disadvantage, CTV had to take extra efforts in order to survive, among which producing martial art costume dramas was a giant step. Similar to the film genre that features swords fighting (wuxia) in the ancient Chinese context, CTV’s martial art dramas presented epic stories of Chinese heroes and heroines situated in a sinister yet romantic “world of swordsmen”—Jiang Hu (江湖). In 1976, the release of  martial art drama The Legend of The Condor Heroes/Shediao Yingxiong Zhuan 射雕英雄傳, adapted from a novel ­composed by Hong Kong’s prominent martial art novelist Louis Cha Leung-­yung 查良鏞/金庸, was a groundbreaking moment in Hong Kong cultural history. The drama was directed by the experienced television producer Siu Sang 蕭笙. In fact, he used to propose martial art novel adaptation when he was working in RTV but was neglected. He recalled that the time investment of making martial art television drams was 24 times than other genres. This first martial art drama was even shot in South Korea for the snow-scene fighting. The grand production of this drama was proved well rewarding. Upon the launch of this spectacular martial art television drama on April 12, 1972, Hong Kong people were soon drawn by this flamboyant swordsman world. Every night, when the theme song of the drama was aired, it stroke the chord of every family and if you took a stroll in Hong Kong’s public estates, only empty streets could be found; people of all ages did nothing on the street but laid their eyes on the television screen. At the dining table, the whole family enjoyed their meals and immersed into the heroic land  of “The Legend of The Condor Heroes” (RTHK 2004, p. 52). The leading actors of the drama, such as Michelle Yim (米雪), soon gained huge fame in Hong Kong and even in South East Asia. Following “The Legend”, CTV released another TV adaptation from Louis Cha work The Romance of the Condor Heroes/Shendiao Xialu 神鵰 俠侶 also in 1976. By this end, CTV had already showcased significant threat to TVB and RTV by being the first television station producing heroic martial art dramas.



Seeing the success of The Legend, TVB realized the huge potential of martial art dramas and made every effort to catch the trend. The majority of material and human resources were invested to martial art drama production. TVB even purchased the copyright of Louis Cha’s martial art novels. Under such circumstances, CTV had to turn to martial art works adapted from Gu Long (古龍), another martial art novelist master. TV dramas of Gu Long series such as Meteor, Butterfly and Sword/Liuxing Hudie Jian 流星·蝴蝶·劍 (1978) was well-received too. But facing TVB’s ambition and phenomenal investment in the field of martial art costume drama, CTV had to seek alternative way to survive. For example, a group of television talents from Taiwan were recruited to further innovate costume drama production, which, unfortunately were under criticism of dullness and unsuitable to Hong Kong’s local taste. Despite that CTV martial art dramas once became talk of the town in 1976, the tide was soon conquered by TVB and CTV failed to lead the trend. In 1978, cultural business talent Selina Liang Shuk-yee (梁淑儀) left TVB and was poached to join CTV to rescue its ebbing business. Liang’s resignation was followed by a group of TVB staffs who were loyal to Liang. Under Liang’s baton, a series of actions that aimed to help CTV bounce back were soon implemented, named “July CTV”. Intensive eye-­ catching advertising dominated newspaper front-page, again making talk of the town while at the same time equal weight of criticism. This wave of action ended with failure, and the low rating of a series of new television drams led to fierce conflicts among CTV’s major investors (Ng 2003, pp. 75–90). CTV consequently faced tremendous financial crisis. CTV was abruptly closed in 1978. Without prior notice, on August 22, 1978, a notice was placed at the gate of the television station, informing the cease of business due to financial crackdown. Shocked by the sudden decision, CTV staffs protested to the governor on September 7 and assembled at the Victoria Park on September 10. Unfortunately, the high court announced bankruptcy of CTV on October 19, symbolizing a finale to the short-lived television business. The reasons behind remain disputable while the embedment of education programs in prime time, the fierce competition from TVB and RTV as well as the background of CTV’s shareholders (the Lam family was from Macao instead of from Hong Kong) seemed equally important. Actually, the second year of CTV’s business, complaints from CTV were already heard among the executive council members. It was said that competition was greater than expected. In retrospect, the establishment of CTV was at the height of television



i­ndustrial recession when advertising budget was low. Plus, there were already two commercial broadcasting services in this small territory, exhausting the market share in terms of advertising income (Chin 2008, p. 73). More importantly, public interest remained low in educational TV programs which hence led to equally low interest from advertisers.16 After the closure of CTV, its TV programs were purchased and archived by TVB and RTV. Until today, we could still peek into the jianghu made by CTV as TVB exhibited CTV dramas from time to time in late night. From the dazzling swords-fighting scenes and arresting theme songs, people recall the days when different broadcasting providers strived to plough new ways to advance Hong Kong’s television culture.

From RHK to RTHK Debates About Changing Role of RHK Having served the information dissemination channel of the government, RHK had experienced important structural transformations since its commencement in 1928. After the devastating 1967 riot, the colonial government realized the lack of communication between the authority and the mass population, especially the massive Chinese grassroot population. Considerable scale of social reconstruction and public infrastructure improvement were carried out by the government since then: public housing, education, public health and diversification of top-down communication channels (Cheung 2009). RHK, with little doubt, became the main target amid the reformation in the arena of mass media. Under this backdrop, a television section was set up in RHK and was directed by Jimmy Hawthorne who was sent to Hong Kong from BBC managerial sector. After Donald Brooks left, Hawthorne took the position as the Director of the RHK. He elucidated the purpose of setting up the television department: The introduction of the RTHK Television, an outcome of the 1967 disturbances, was to propagate the truth, to entertain and to educate the general public. The aims of the groups are: to enlighten the people on issues; to present the Government’s views clearly; to see a proper debate on matters of public concern.

 PRO files: XCC(76)63 in HKRS261-3-65~66.




In 1968, also as a result of the 1967 riot, the Department of Education established an education television unit in order to increase population’s literacy and to supply an education channel out of a formal schooling system. In the post-war era, Hong Kong became a shelter that received tremendous influx of mainland Chinese refugees, among whom a considerable proportion were illiterate rural population or grassroot class who received limited education. Against such backdrop and under the government’s reformation policy, Hong Kong’s education television started broadcasting service in 1971, technologically supported by RHK and broadcasted via commercial television channels. Education programs covered foundational subjects such as Chinese, English, Mathematics and Social Science of primary and secondary school levels. In 1976, when RHK was renamed to RTHK, the education television was incorporated into part of this government broadcast station. According to a 1977 report, viewership reached 600,000 people (Ng 2003, p. 10). The video tapes of these programs were also dispatched to public schools as supplementary teaching materials. In campaign of building RHK, the public broadcasting service of Hong Kong, RHK had walked a rocky road. To both Brooks and Hawthorne, who used to serve at top position in the BBC, establishing RHK/RTHK into a BBC-mode public broadcasting was their goal. For example, as part of the government, RHK used to relay the news issued by the governmental information office. In 1973, Brooks strived to take control over RHK’s own journalistic and editorial independence and as a result eventually RHK established its own news department which as well offered news to other commercial broadcast stations. It was also since then that RHK news bulletin format of news reports varied from news brief to features, adding more color to news reporting. However, under serious objection from the Information Department, the development of Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry was eventually diverted to a future with more commercial broadcasting service providers in the field rather than owning a Hong Kong public broadcasting (Cheung 2006). In a “notes of reservation” presented by the then Director of Broadcasting D.  E. Brooks annexed in the “Future of Broadcasting” report, he condemned the too-conservative attitude held by the working party which preferred introducing more commercial competition than establishing a public service system to the city. In the report, he insisted his strong will to build a public service broadcast in the colony. His determination to public service broadcasting was in clash with the then Director



of Information Service N.  J. V.  Watt. We could still trace the ideations held by Brooks from his words: The principal aim of public service broadcasting is, after all, to ‘make the good popular and the popular good’. Where these qualities are absent, no amount of regulation or control can force a commercial broadcaster to relegate his prime motive to a secondary role. It may be said that in Hong Kong we cannot afford the luxury of publicly financed broadcasting which will be both socially important, interesting and entertaining in itself but will also serve to raise the standards of commercial broadcasting, and I would have been happier with the working party’s report if it had been able to recognize the immediate introduction, but cast doubt on the ability of the Colony to afford it.17

RHK was transformed into RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong) in 1976. Below the Lion Rocks Below the Lion Rocks/Shizishan Xia 獅子山下 was one of the signature productions under this context. Starting from 1972, it was said that, due to Hawthorne’s experience in BBC, he encouraged producing programs voicing out opinions from the grassroot people and programs that in line with public policies such as fighting against crime (Cheung 2006). The naming of the program was closely related to the location of RHK headquarters which faced the Lion Rocks. In the prolonged post-war era, refugees from mainland China, legally and illegally, crossed the border and arrived in Hong Kong’s New Territories which then were still massive planting fields. The Lion Rocks separated the urban area from the planting fields. The floods of refugees who managed to settle down in the urban area built their shelters under the Lion Rocks with wooden stacks. Seeing from windows in the RHK building, what filled the eyes were the massive size refugee community. People here survived amid problems of hygiene, crime, security and potential threats from fire and epidemic disease. This scene in reality made a robust field for RHK staffs to tell the most authentic stories of Hong Kong people (RTHK 2004, p. 80). 17  PRO file: HKRS261-3-54, the “Working Party Report on the Future of Broadcasting” is annexed to Executive Council discussion file XCC(72)14.



In the first few years, each episode was set in a public estate apartment, featuring an ordinary but typical Hong Kong family life: the older generation was refugee from mainland China while the youngsters were locally born new generation. The shooting was situated in real scenes and was shots were taken by 16mm reels in black-and-white with live sound ­recording. Since the late 1970s, further reformation was made on the program that each episode consisted of one individual story, same as previously, depicting ordinary people’s life in post-war Hong Kong. Under the principle that authentic daily life shall be revealed, Below the Lion Rocks series was soon known for its critical and humane lens that captured adversaries or even life-and-death problems faced by those underprivileged. And it was also since then, the program became the experimental field to a group of young directors. This group of young talents was later called the “New Wave”, introducing the European realistic filming techniques and philosophies to Hong Kong (see Chap. 2). Episodes of this series mirrored a large number of pressing social problems in the late 1960s and 1970s, also a drastically transitional era for the colonial government and the mass population. Livelihood issues: housing, security and life problems of boat people and squatter residents, crime rates in public real estates, and youth problems were captured by camera and shown on television screens. Through the lens of a group of filming professionals, especially a group of young (under their 30s) and locally grown-up New Wave directors, stories of millions of grassroot people were narrated in forms of docudrama. These large amount docudramas later were widely regarded as the groundbreaking debut works from the New Wave directors (Image 4.2). Dynamics Behind the Scene in RTHK Series Ann Hui, a leading member of the New Wave and a frequent awardee in international film festivals, already stretched her style, motif, scope and vision in her early television works. She filmed three RTHK Below the Lion Rocks episodes that featured social issues of Vietnamese refugee, public infrastructures and drug problems. Her penetrating narration of Hong Kong’s hidden social problems was even once banned by the related official departments. For example, her output during her service in the film unit of ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption, an independent government unit), the ICAC series, was censored. Her works for the Below the Lion Rocks series, Bridge/Qiao 橋 (1978), ran into difficulties



Image 4.2  Communities under the Lion Rocks in the 1960s. The image dated back to approximately 1960s post-war Hong Kong shows the sites the resettlement estate (right) and temporary self-built shelters (center and far right), where housed hundreds of thousands of refugees originated from mainland China. (Courtesy to Special Collections, The University of Hong Kong Libraries)

with the authorities and was subsequently excised before it was aired (Shu 1998).18 Bridge told a story about a Kowloon residential community where traffic accidents frequented following the demolishment of a wooden bridge. Protests were agitated. In Ann Hui’s work Bridge (1978), cross sections of a social incident were laid bare, from the eyes of an American reporter: hoods exploiting the pedestrian bridge to supply electricity illegally and made profits from doing so; dreadful living conditions of residents (shortage of water and electricity); The Housing Authority denied knowing about the bridge’s demolition, and the Social Welfare Department putting on a virtuous fronts but in fact against the residents; the hoods agitated the residents against the authorities while many residents were unsure about their attitudes; the government was irresponsible and failed to 18  Ann Hui’s television programs about police corruption were banned under the instruction from ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption).



answer people’s will; the government was good at whitewashing by showing foreign officials a rosy picture; the intellectual class was reluctant to stand out when things really happened (Shu 1998). The Bridge episode caught attention from the Housing Authority which was concerned about the negative depiction of the malfunctioning Housing Authority. The Housing Authority wrote to RTHK and expressed their concern. In response to the complaints and questions from the Housing Authority regarding “we do not need a government radio station to pick over our social sores”, the director of broadcasting, Donald Kerr emphasized that the role of RTHK was “to report social problems as a way of involving the public intelligently in community matters”. Regarding Ann Hui’s Bridge, Kerr emphasized that the message from the episode was to alert people “beware spontaneous anti-Government public demonstrations and look at the motives of the manipulators”. Plus, in the episode, a girl assistant explained the real reasons, and a scene where she showed visitors around was used to give the facts on housing progress. Kerr further defended that, no other arm of the government had had so much “unqualified enthusiastic promotion both on radio and television”.19 Housing issues topped among RTHK’s programs, under the context that massive housing reformation was taking place in the post-1967 era while different types of problems still lingered. It was interesting to spot that, though the director of broadcasting made every effort to steer away questions from the authorities, it is not difficult to unveil the nature of RHK television to intelligently engage the public community. In 1974, a survey showed that Below the Lion Rocks reached 1,490,000 viewership, while at that time the top-rated RTV program was only 422,000 (Ng 2003, p. 13; Chin 2008, p. 81).20 Below the Lion Rocks presented not only vivid depiction of the post-war multi-faceted Hong Kong mass society, but also a musical legacy—the theme song with the same title as the TV series. At the beginning, the theme song of the series was a Cantonese folk tune. In 1979, along with the rising popularity of Hong Kong-style popular song—Cantopop in the society, the theme song was turned into a pop style titled Below the Lion Rocks. Melody floats ups and downs in a ballad  PRO files: HKRS670-1-7.  While in Chin Wan’s book, the figure reached 2,900,000. It was said that according to the government census, among all the household television owners, 99% watched Below the Lion Rocks. 19 20



style, carrying lyrics that featured the equally intriguing twists and turns on the rocky road that Hong Kong people had gone through. In life we are sometimes glad But we’ll also be sad We together have met under the lion rock Our joy is counted more than sighing In life there is rugged Can’t be without worries on the same boat in Hong Kong we each help each other Release those conflicts in our mind Ideals chase together Swear to stay with always Be Brave Without fear As we live in Hong Kong With Hands to Overcome We together used hard works to have written those Hong Kong Immortal words (Under the Lion Rocks. Music: Joseph Koo, Lyric: James Wong. Translated by the author) (人生中有歡喜 難免亦常有淚 我哋大家 在獅子山下相遇上 總算是歡笑多於唏噓 人生不免崎嶇 難以絕無掛慮 既是同舟 在獅子山下且共濟 拋棄區分求共對 放開彼此心中矛盾 理想一起去追 同舟人 誓相隨 無畏更無懼 同處海角天邊 攜手踏平崎嶇 我哋大家 用艱辛努力寫下那 不朽香江名句)

The song was composed by Joseph Koo and penned by James Wong, the most talented and sought-after Hong Kong popular song creative duo in Hong Kong. The song was expressively interpreted by Roman Tam (羅 文), then a guru of Hong Kong pop music arena and later recognized the “Hong Kong pop legend” famous for his superior skills in English, Mandarin and Cantonese singing and his versatile stage images. From a TV theme song to a Hong Kong popular cultural classic, Below the Lion Rocks touched the nerve of generations of listeners by telling immortal stories of endeavors Hong Kong people had taken to make the city thrive. The ambition of this song was hinted by the lyrics. The last line



was originally penned “Hong Kong long live forever” (香港千秋萬歲), as envisioned by James Wong. But later the finished version showed “immortal words” instead (Apple Daily July 2, 2015). James Wong was born in Guangzhou. In 1949, following the establishment of PRC, the Wong family (the father was a pro-KMT civilian) moved to Hong Kong. For more than ten years, James Wong was living in Shum Shui Po, which had and still has the biggest cluster of grassroot people of city. James Wong experienced corner stone incidents in Hong Kong contemporary history which were also the turning points that changed his life: the devastating fire of Shek Kip Mei wooden rack house area (the accident boosted Hong Kong government to think seriously about housing problem), the 1967 riot in addition to the everyday life of thousands of Hong Kong grassroot people in post-war Hong Kong. James Wong recalled, when he was writing the lyrics for Below the Lion Rocks, he thought about the 1967 riot. Molotov Cocktail (petrol bombs) were put on streets and the whole city was enmeshed in imminent violence. The labor strike and anti-colonialism movement turned to a riot. By projecting his sentiments in the song, James Wong hoped that people embracing different ideals could abandon the conflicts and walked hand in hand to chase the Hong Kong dream.21 For a long period of time, Below the Lion Rocks was regarded hallmark of the city and the core spirit of Hong Kong people. However, according to Prof. Ng Chun Hung, a Hong Kong popular culture scholar, James Wong was by all means a “Chinese nationalist”. Today, the “Chinese national vs. Hongkonger” debate was ever more tensed in the Hong Kong society. In different occasions, the song was brought forth to reinforce the Hong Kong spirit. But ironically, James Wong and his family regarded themselves as émigré, diaspora, dreaming one day they could return home and re-established the lost Republic of China. Every year on October 10, the Wong family would hoist the flag of Republic of China to remember their lost nation. In 1982, James Wong wrote the song My Chinese Heart/Wode Zhongguoxin 我的中國心, proclaiming that “no matter where I am, nothing can change my Chinese heart”. The song was well-received in PRC, epitomizing the first Hong Kong popular song officially landed in PRC after 1949.22

21  Episode “James Wong: Very Hong Kong”, 2016, RTHK, http://www.rthk.hk/tv/ dtt31/programme/popcultureicons2015/episode/339752. 22  Episode “James Wong: Very China”, 2016, RTHK, http://www.rthk.hk/tv/dtt31/ programme/popcultureicons2015/episode/339751.



Despite of the controversial “Chinese heart” of James Wong, his legacy Below the Lion Rocks became a Hong Kong all-time cultural resource that carries numerous repertoires under changing temporal-spatial contexts. While from time to time, Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials quoted lines from this song to praise the arduous Hong Kong people who made the economic miracle on the capitalist land, this 1979 song unexpectedly got a glamorous second life in the hands of Hong Kong youths. In 2014, the city-wide  pro-democracy social movement, Umbrella Movement, broke out in the city. After nearly a one-month occupation, a limbo was emerged, and the momentum of the movement was clogged as attritions occurred among different movement camps. On October 23, a masterpiece of pro-movement and pro-democracy prop was unveiled in front of 7 million Hong Kong people. A group of hikers secretly climbed on top of the Lion Rocks and hanged a huge banner stating “I want genuine universal suffrage” (我要真普選). The Lion Rocks image, the movement banner and the classic Below the Lion Rocks song were re-mixed into a music video, symbolizing activists’ deep-seated sense of belonging to the city—a profound Hong Kong identity. The song Below the Lion Rocks has been passed down through generations, through different epochs and under different sovereignties. The polesemic nature of music and song grants this long-lived musical work a vibrant life that echoes voices of commoners and rulers at different social sectors and social classes. The RTHK classic TV program Below the Lion Rocks also retains a new life in the millenniums. Not only that old-time episodes were re-exhibited on websites for the public, television professionals continue to produce new episodes that, similar to those in the 1970s, penetrate into the most deep-seated social problems and mirror the zeitgeist of Hong Kong23 (Image 4.3).

Gallants’ Duel in the 1980s The collapse of CTV in 1978 led to a long-lasting era that TVB and RTV became the only two television broadcasting service providers and the later turmoil in RTV (later named ATV) further led to the quasi-­ monopoly of TVB. 23  Archives of Below the Lion Rocks classics: http://www.rthk.hk/tv/dtt31/programme/ belowthelionrockclassics?lang=en.



Image 4.3  Lion Rocks with banner. (Taken by the author)

Mogul TVB In 1984, TVB got on list as HK-TVB Limited and actively expanded its business home and abroad. In 1988, TVB headquarters left Broadcast Drive and moved to the much larger Clear Water Bay site as their new base which used to be the grand studio of Shaw Brothers. As early as the late 1970s, facing the rapid rising of new style film companies such as Golden Harvest, the increasing importance of Cantonese film and the drastic changing in the film industry, the once film industrial giant—Shaw Brothers—was clogged in the drastic changing time. In 1967, entertainment business mogul Run Run Shaw (1907–2014) commenced its television business with another local businessman Lee Hau-wo (利孝和), the third son of financial magnate Lee Hysan 利希慎. In 1980, Lee Hau-wo died from heart attack and his wife Christine Lee Look Ngan-kwan (利陸 雁群) (also called Mrs. Lee Hau-wo (利孝和夫人)) inherited the legacy. Though since then Run Run Shaw took charge in operating the business, Mrs. Lee appeared publicly in different corporate ceremonial occasions.



Her elegance and grace shimmered from her precious gown and jewelry became an all-time TVB symbol. According to deputy program controller of ATV, Chan Kai-cheung commented that TVB Jade first showed its ambition as early as in the 1970s when it aggressively took the lead to produce local programs instead of dubbing foreign programs into Cantonese or directly importing foreign programs. In-house produced soap operas, variety shows and television games featured local talents and reflected local lifestyle. “TVB with over 4000 hours of in-house Cantonese productions, is reputably the largest Chinese television program producer in the world” (Chan 1991, p. 510). In 1985, TVB’s prime-time advertising fee was already 100 times of the price in 1967. Even though Rediffusion was the first broadcasting service in Hong Kong, TVB’s financial foundation and the long-established experience in entertainment industry from its main leader Run Run Shaw together with his wife, the former Shanghai-origin singer Mona Fong (方 逸華) helped TVB excel its competitors for decades (Table 4.4). Table 4.4  Net profit of TVB 1979–1994 (Hong Kong dollar) Year

Net profit of TVB

1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994

33,000,000 56,000,000 100,000,000 142,000,000 175,000,000 204,000,000 232,000,000 314,000,000 408,000,000 326,000,000 357,000,000 327,000,000 249,750,000 365,580,000 520,000,000 639,000,000

Data Source: TVB annual reports Cited from Chung PYS, 2011, A hundred year of Hong Kong film industry, p. 265



Struggling of RTV/ATV However, the situation of RTV was far less promising compared to TVB. The quaking of ownership composition since the late 1970s gave a heavy hit on staffs’ morale and the quality of production, and thus eventually in 2016 led to the final note of Hong Kong’s first broadcast station destiny. Suffered from continuous loss, which reached 230 million dollars accumulatively, in 1981, Rediffusion Britain stopped its investment in Hong Kong RTV.  In the same year, David Syme & Co., Ltd. from Australia bought 61.2% share of RTV. In 1982, Hong Kong businessman Chiu Te Ken Deacon (邱德根), founder of Far East Bank and a former TVB major shareholder bought the rest 38.8 share of RTV at rock-bottom price and since then the Chiu family chaired the operation of the television station. Chiu renamed RTV into ATV (Asia Television Limited), considering that the original British ownership already ceased. Entering its new epoch, ATV since 1985 became home to the Miss Asia pageant, counterpart of TVB’s Miss Hong Kong pageant. Chiu operated the business in a frugal style: the annual expenditure of the company was around 80–90  million dollars while TVB’s annual budget in 1986 was 369  million dollars (Chan 1991, p.  510). It was also thanks to Chiu’s effective management philosophy that ATV for the first time turned loss to profit (7 million dollars) in 1986. In the following year, Chiu further renamed the Chinese and English channels into golden channel and diamond channel, respectively. In two years, in 1988, another restructuring shrouded ATV as more local businessmen got involved in the corporation: Lam Pak-yan (林百欣), founder of the Lai Sun textile manufacturing corporation, and Cheng Yu-tong (鄭裕彤), the New World real estate group. Improvement was implemented on television production equipment and transmission network. In 1989, the Chiu family sold ATV’s share to the New World group and Lai Sun at 613 million dollars, officially withdrew from ATV business. In 1989, again, ATV was renamed following its ownership restructure: the former golden channel was renamed into ATV Home and the diamond channel turned to ATV World. With the joining of the new consortium, enormous investment was put into renovation: the annual expenditure jumped from 80–90 million dollars to an estimated 500 million dollars in 1990. However, this figure was still far less than its counterpart’s 648 million-­dollar annual budget.



However, as for over two decades, TVB had been widely regarded the television leading figure in the territory, especially the Sinophone community where TVB Jade dominated the market. TVB Jade productions, including prime-time soap operas and the annual Miss Hong Kong pageant attracted city-wide viewership and became talk of the town on the next day—virtually a process of Hong Kong identity formulation. Given that a number of strategies ATV had adopted to challenge TVB’s bossy status, such as the “Sail Out Thousand Boat” campaign in the early 1980s, the real competition seldom lasted long as TVB soon learned the lessons and dissolved difficulties by bouncing back with more rigorously made programs. However, the ebbs and flows of ATV production quality and creative rigor were from time to time halted by the company’s changing financial and management structures. The precarious future of ATV further shoved audience away from being loyalty. The overall performance of ATV for a long time had been tremendously outshined by TVB, so did the advertising revenue turnover and the corporate profit (Tables 4.5 and 4.6). Table 4.5  Viewership of Chinese television channels Chinese Television Daily Average Viewership (%) 1984 Any Chinese TV Chinese TV only TVB jade only ATV home only Both Chinese channels

83 77 49 3 31

1988 94 87 75 1 18

1989 95 86 57 2 36

Source: Chan KC 1991, The media and telecommunications, in Richard Y.C.  Wong and Joseph Y.  S. Cheng (eds) The other Hong Kong report (pp. 507–536). The Chinese University Press. p. 509

Table 4.6  Annual loss of ATV 1988–1991 Loss of ATV (HKD, million) Year










Source: Ma KW 1992, War era of Hong Kong television, p. 28



Television and Sound Broadcasting Survey 1984 In 1984, the Census and Statistics department of Hong Kong, under auspices of the Broadcasting Review Board, conducted a television and sound broadcasting survey among 5047 citizens (aged 15 and above) regarding their views and experience on the television broadcast service.24 From this report, we could peek into more dynamics in the television industry that featured two long-standing gallants. In the 1980s, television had already become the major mass entertaining form in the society, 94.4% of the respondents reported that they had watched television during the two weeks prior to the survey. As TVB and ATV were the only two free television service providers while TVB for most of time exceeded ATV in terms of advertising revenue and viewership (with 71.7% viewers watched TVB Jade most often while audience of ATV-Chinese reached 8.2% only), the majority of viewers (67.5%) were satisfied with the existing television service. Interestingly, viewers who watched TVB most often showed larger anger with the provision of only two Chinese channels than those watched ATV most often. Notably, throughout the years, ATV and CTV had from time to time taken the lead to counter TVB by producing up-and-coming genres, such as martial art dramas and epic history centered costume dramas, while among these trends of industrial innovation TVB sometimes only acted as followers. However, in most cases, those strategies were soon adopted by TVB, which bounced back to the leading place in a short time, and the competitiveness from other television stations was flattened. TVB’s audience, therefore, got used to this pattern and had to rely on TVB for the latest program while had few alternative with more diverse choice in good quality. Moreover, viewers demanded more documentaries and news programs for everyday enjoyment as well as larger diversity of choices regarding children’s and teenagers’ programs, especially local productions (Table 4.7). In terms of people’s TV viewing habit, unsurprisingly, 90.2% of the television viewers had watched drama series recently during the survey period. The reasons for watching were mainly “to kill time” (60%), “like the plot/theme” (35.7%) and “for relaxation” (19.2%). But contents from television dramas were under criticism because of “unscrupulous quest for success and power”, “vengeance at all cost”, “slapping a person’s face in  Public Record Office Hong Kong: (library resource) 384.54 CEN.




Table 4.7  Audience viewing preference survey Programs Documentaries News Drama series Public affairs Feature films Sports Variety shows TV plays Youth programs Arts and cultural programs Magazine programs Children’s programs Horse racing

Percentage of Viewers Who Wanted to Watch More and Preferred the Stations to Broadcast More 31.1 26.3 22.6 21.6 19.2 17.4 13.4 9.9 9.4 7.8 7.0 5.2 2.8

Source: Television and Sound Broadcasting Survey, Census and Statistics Department 1984, p. 13

rage”, “got drunk when depressed” and other series of anti-social behavior. Around 80% of the viewers thought the first four types of contents were present in drama series. While the result was subject to viewers’ subjective comprehension of the drama series contents, the survey respondents raised examples regarding the vulgar and triad languages appeared in the programs, which should be objectionable. Interestingly, when asking about to what extent the respondents thought the objectionable contents/themes were acceptable or not, the category “making friends indiscriminately” was the most unacceptable type of content (47.9%) even compared to “vengeance at all cost” (35%) and “anti-social behavior” (41.6%). Patterns of television viewing between different occupation workers showed a diversified picture that those working as professional and managerial middle-upper class preferred serious types of television programs while those working in manufacturing industry and domestic workers opted for more leisure-oriented programs. Noteworthy is that, viewers of these three categories of occupations all expressed limited interest in showing more horse racing programs while the major demands still went to more public affairs and knowledge-oriented programs as documentaries, news and public affairs toppled the statistics.



Despite that TV dramas were the most important resources of television stations to win over viewership and thus advertising revenue, people expressed their demands on a more diverse choice of TV programs. While demand for documentaries appeared to be the largest, different age groups and people of different occupational natures expressed diverse needs. The demand for more youth programs was mainly expressed by those aged 15–19 while the largest need for more news programs was from those middle-age (25–34) and senior population (65 and over). Interest in more horse racing programs was the lowest among all age groups (Table 4.8).

Making of Hong Kong Identity Category Mirroring the equally drastically changing Hong Kong society in the 1970s, the television dramas produced by RTV, TVB and later CTV dominated Hong Kong people’s daily life and greatly crafted people’s social perception over different social groups. The Bad And The Ugly/ Wangzhongren 網中人 (1979) outstood by sketching a vivid image of a vulgar, greedy and uncivilized Chinese new immigrant image—Ah Chian Table 4.8  TV program genre preference by people of different occupations Professionals/ Administrators Documentaries Public affairs News Sports Feature films Arts and cultural programs Drama series Variety shows Magazine programs Children’s programs TV plays Youth programs Horse racing

% 41.5 36.7 26.1 21.4 17.6 13.8

Production Workers


Documentaries News Drama series Public affairs Sports Feature films

31.3 27.6 23.5 19.8 18.7 17.2

Variety shows TV plays Youth programs Magazine programs Arts and cultural programs 3.6 Children’s programs 2.1 Horse racing

12.5 9.9 5.4 5.3 5.1

9.4 7.4 6.8 4.3 3.9



Drama series News Documentaries Feature films Variety shows Public affairs

33.6 26.6 21.5 14.6 14.5 14.0

TV plays Magazine programs Children’s programs Youth programs Arts and cultural programs 4.4 Sports 4.0 Horse racing

12.7 12.6 9.0 5.9 5.6 4.7 0.5

Source: Television and Sound Broadcasting Survey, Census and Statistics Department 1984, p. 16 Note: % refers to percentage of viewers who wanted to watch more and preferred the stations to broadcast more



(阿燦). To make a strong contrast to the unwelcoming image of “Ah Chian”, Chow Yun-fat impersonated a decent brother (Ching Wai 程偉) who was a college-educated Hong Kong local. For a long time, “Ah Chian” symbolized the tension between Hong Kong locals and mainland Chinese migrants. This tension has been carried on through television drama representation under different temporal-spatial contexts. While The Bad And The Ugly demarcated the differences between a “civilized and modern Hong Kong” and a “backward mainland”, alongside with Hong Kong’s sovereignty transfer in 1997, the binary dynamics experienced dramatic change. Drawing a Salient Boundary Discussion on Hong Kong people’s identity—nationality and ethnicity has entangled with the city’s destiny—a “borrowed place borrowed time” (Hughes 1976). Facing the turning point of Hong Kong’s fate—the 1997 handover, cultural scholar Ackbar Abbas lamented Hong Kong’s story “state of the world at the fin-de-siècle”. Hong Kong finds itself being caught between two colonies (Britain and the PRC), and there is a desperate attempt to hold tight its images of identity, however alien or cliché they are (Abbas 1997). However, to Hong Kong media culture scholar Eric Ma, the so-called Hong Kong identity and the images of it actually share a young life, and the formation and consolidation of what makes “Hong Kong” could never be free from comparison with (in many cases, looking down upon) those from mainland China. Thus, through comparison, a salient boundary has been drawn. The crackdown of “pro-communist” rioters in 1967 and restoration of social order taken by the then Governor David Trench won people’s respect on the colonial government and rejection of “red China” (Yep 2012). After the 1967 riot, massive construction of a modern city in terms of urban planning, welfare system, education system and social order (e.g. anti-corruption) were undergone. Amid the massive urban restoration and city life formation, Hong Kong citizens saw a rising modern and civilized city. The segregation between Hong Kong and mainland China was thus further demarcated. The border dividing PRC and British colony Hong Kong became stringent due to the setting up of a strict border control (Touch Base Policy) in 1974. To the enormous number of baby boomers (in the end of 1960s, locally born population for the first time exceeded those from mainland China), legal or illegal immigrants from mainland



China, along with the “cultural taste” and “habitat” carried by them, were merely “residuals” to the city under rapid modernization. By that time, kaleidoscopic images and sounds from Hong Kong local mass media: the vibrant film industry, the well-established broadcasting service, the launch of free television and western rock fad became the dominant symbols of Hong Kong up-scaling life, while those from the red forbidden land represented backwardness and uncivilized. Plus, the improving living condition as people moved from wooden shelters below the Lion Rocks to concrete buildings (resettlement area and public estates), along with the prosperous industrial transformation from labor-intensive manufacturing to service-oriented economy, further crafted a bright future to the mass population. The social condition and the prospering television culture altogether shaped a sense of belonging to this territory. It was a crucial moment to Hong Kong as for the first time, Hong Kong became home to its majority population instead of a temporary shelter for the massive refugees. Identity Boundary Making Through “Ah Chian” In this transitional era, television played a key role. Though Cantonese films once dominated the popular culture market, in the late 1960s, the Cantonese film industry was under fatal attack by Mandarin film productions, which brought forth more refined filming techniques and glamorous stardom. Production of Cantonese film even dropped to zero at the beginning of the 1970s while the opening of Hong Kong’s first free television soon conquered the cultural field. It was also thanks to the co-stage of film and television stars in the film “72 Tenants” (co-produced by Shaw Brothers and TVB) that the Cantonese film industry revived. As television dramas attracted more than half of the city’s population during prime time, the appearance of the performers, the language they used, their way of life, the vision they embraced and their interaction with different social organizations formulated Hong Kong people’s way of living and seeing the world—capitalist individualism and materialism under the Sinophone culture. Influence from television penetrated in various social sectors. One of the distinctive features of Hong Kong television culture since the late 1970s was the formation of identity category: telling mainlanders from Hong Kongers. While the latter represented the more civilized and wealthier group, the former group was shaped into a negative or mixed



image. A social psychological theory, membership categorization, was adopted by Eric Ma to gauge this cultural phenomenon through studying television drama texts. According to Ma, different from the tremendously huge influx of mainland Chinese refugees who sought shelter in Hong Kong during and after the Sino-Japan war, the mainland emigrants in the 1970s and 1980s were vested with mixed feelings from Hong Kong locals. This group of outsiders from “red China” were unrefined yet kind-­ hearted. Situated in Hong Kong’s escalating economy and increasingly improved social welfare system, the intrusion of the new immigrants became salient in series of television dramas. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1979) became a signature of this genre that presented a typical mainland immigrant “Ah Chian” image in that age. In Cantonese, the name “Ah Chian” already implied the inferior social class of a person. In well-off families, poetic, obscure, analogical and even cryptic characters/phrases would be used in children’s names to suggest the families’ nobility and high education level. But “Ah Chian”, a single-word name, in the Cantonese context was no more than an over-­ simplified and straightforward expression. Throughout the episodes, “Ah Chian” was illustrated as an unwelcomed new comer—lack of sanitation habit, uneducated, lazy and sometimes committed pilferage. In the drama, the notorious image of “Ah Chian” was made even more salient by introducing his brother Ching Wai, a Hong Kong local who carried all sorts of “modern” qualities—educated, polite and tidy. The two brothers’ example richly suggested the bi-polar mainland China—Hong Kong relation. And because of the easily memorizing name and the vivid on-screen depiction of this young man role, “Ah Chian” soon caught fire in the city once it appeared in the TVB drama. Even today, “Ah Chian” still prevails in Hong Kong and other Cantonese-speaking regions when people try to make fun of those unfamiliar with city orders. The separation of mainland-Hong Kong culture and the rapid space of modernization in Hong Kong widens the gap between Hong Kong locals and mainlanders. To the ‘modern’ Hong Kong locals, the mainlanders who experienced the Cultural Revolution fell behind at least twenty years, in terms of taste, everyday lifestyle and cultural values. They (mainlanders) were perceived as ‘alien’, a different type of Chinese (to Hong Kong Chinese). (Ma 1996, p. 82)25 25  中港文化分隔, 加上香港的的急促現代化, 令本地人和大陸人之間產生了文化和經濟上 的鴻溝。在文革時代成長的大陸人, 相對“現代的”香港人, 無論在品味、行為或價值取向 方面都相距了二十年。他們被視為是“異類”, 是不同種類的中國人.



A dynamic interrelationship between the mediated contents and social reality was thus created. It was still a puzzle that whether the mediated image of “Ah Chian” reinforced Hong Kong people’s prejudice against mainland immigrants or the pre-existing rejection of mainlanders ultimately cultivated a vivid “Ah Chian”. From then on, “Ah Chian” as a Chinese nickname implicating uncivility and rudeness. In Ma’s audience research regarding viewers’ perception of different types of roles in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which was re-screened in the 1980s. It was found that the negative image of “Ah Chian” was largely presumed as “those from mainland China” and was bore in viewers’ minds as a sole representation of mainland Chinese. To this end, “Ah Chian” already became a distinctive cultural symbol in Hong Kong society, implying a large but unwelcomed group of the population (Ma 1995a, 1999; Tsang and Ma 2010). Negotiated TV Texts Entering the 1990s, another TVB soap opera The Greed of Man/Da Shidai 大時代 (1992) marked another turning point in the relationship between television industry and social reality. After the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, the Hong Kong society was fraught with uncertainties and anxieties facing the 1997 handover—Hong Kong would be handed over to PRC’s sovereignty on July 1, 1997. Shrouded under this omen-like future, the 1989 crackdown of the Tiananmen student protest further deteriorated Hong Kong people’s trust on the Communist rule of China. However, commercial broadcasting revealed a sinister and elusive picture—a complicated China-Hong Kong interaction instead of the previous binary opposition was portrayed on screen. TVB’s epic ­production of a fashion drama series The Greed of Man was launched against this backdrop and at the same time symbolized a celebration gift to the 25th anniversary of the broadcast company. Even though not a single word in the drama series was attributed to mainland Chinese, the stunning plots and roles situated in Hong Kong’s precarious capitalist stock market were perceived as threats from mainland China by the television viewers. One of the leading actors, Mr. Fong was an icon of Hong Kong—optimistic, ambitious and getting rich from wit and luck. Fong was western-­ style educated, loved English songs and liked reading English poems. On the other side, the Ting family led by Crab Ting were greedy and behaved



uncivilly, talking rudely and walking clumsily. Plus, the name “Crab” already projected an unpleasant image. Crab, different from Fong, loved reciting Chinese idioms. Fong and Ting had rounds of battles in Hong Kong’s fierce stock market. At the end, Fong won a crucial battle and the Ting family committed suicide from huge capital loss. It is noteworthy that, despite a general bi-polar description still could be traced through the above description, dynamics were embedded in details. For example, instead of a born-genius or a man of total righteousness, Fong, a former ordinary office worker who grew up in a public estate, achieved his final success with assistance from external forces. One day, he came across a mysterious mentor who helped him explore his extraordinarily sharp intuition. In addition, Fong intentionally built connections with a number of Hong Kong tycoons who eventually indirectly facilitated Fong’s final success. The roles at Fong’s side were understood as representatives of Hong Kong—an Asian economic miracle build upon internal resources and external historical contingencies. According to the script writers of this television series, there were three original endings which were at last abandoned due to overly political suggestion, such as the booming of Daya Bay nuclear power station, which was located in mainland China while geographically close to Hong Kong, and the precipitation of stock index right after the 1997. Both Daya Bay nuclear power station and 1997 were salient symbols of China, which was perceived by commercial broadcast companies a taboo in the business world. Thus, heavy strokes on mainland China were self-censored to elude from possible political consequence. Eventually, the current script, drastic change in Hong Kong’s stock market, was adopted for its obscure political insinuation. Eric Ma pointed out in his comparison between Hong Kong’s commercial and public broadcasting logics that ideological differences emerge between them in terms of production processes: while public broadcasting produces texts in a more negotiable way that invites audience to critically view the history, commercial television has to limit diversity and bring forth a pro-establishment ideology in order to draw larger acceptance from the wide audience and ultimately, advertisers and investors (Ma 1995b). The choice of the contents was under a unspoken consensus, the constrain that both the managerial and creative teams understood. Complicated political and social themes were hard to blend into our commercial logic. Therefore we commercial television had to stick to the themes that were familiar to the public



while dramatic still … A theme too controversial would cause withdrawal from advertisers, who, in the 1990s, were mostly mainland-Hong Kong business entities. (Ma 1996, p. 171)26

Re-presenting Hong Kong It was until the few years before 1997 handover that a substantial debate over Hong Kong identity emerged. Government, mass media and people from different social sectors joined force to tell “what is Hong Kong”— processes of re-inventing and remembering Hong Kong. In prolonged pre-war and post-war eras, Hong Kong was a port city that received and saw off millions of people who were colony officials, capitalist, intellectuals and most of them commoners. To millions of sojourners, Hong Kong was never a hometown but lifeboat. A concrete and defined “Hong Kong identity” was only brought up since the 1970s along with Hong Kong’s skyrocketing economy and living condition improvement, thanks to Hong Kong’s geo-political status as a manufacturing hub in the Cold War and later the shifting of governance mind-set after 1967 riot. Nevertheless, according to Eric Ma (1998), the question “who are Hong Kong people” had been foregrounding on the disparity with the “backward” and “uncivilized” mainland Chinese (e.g. Ah Chian). This deep-seated phenomenon “produced an ambivalent and sometimes contradictory Sino-Hong Kong identity. On the one hand, Hong Kong people identify with traditional Chinese culture in an abstract and detached sense, but on the other hand, they discriminate against the particular ­cultural practices which are affiliated with the Communist regime on the mainland” (Ma 1998, p. 332). But facing the historical change of Hong Kong’s sovereignty, a process of “resinicization” was undergone: “recollections, reinvention and rediscovery of historical and cultural ties between Hong Kong and China” (Ma 1998, p.  332). Cases such as TVB’s infotainment program Hong Kong Epic Heritage/Xianggang Chuanqi 香港傳奇 (1996) and HSBC commercial “Fisherman” (1995) were significant examples. By remembering 26  大時代的內容選擇, 受制於一些不顯眼的共識, 是管理層和創作人員都明白和接受的無 形障礙。第一, 複雜和需要微妙處理的社會和政治主題, 較難進入商業思維格式。商營電 視製作寧願選擇戲劇性的、熟悉的以及典型的材料。第二, 富爭議性的材料與無線的思維 格式互不相容。作為滲透力最強的大眾傳播媒介, 商營廣播電視需要盡量收到社會各階層 的支持; 敵意的批評, 會花費公關資源和危害商業利益。這情 況在九十年代尤為真是, 因為 中港商營企業是本地電視其中一個主要的廣告收入來源。.



and forgetting something, a Hong Kong story was re-presented under a mood of “nostalgia”, an over-simplified and politically correct past was crafted. The Hong Kong Epic Heritage program highlighted the success of capitalism and how Hong Kong people were resilient enough to recover from waves of epic disasters and turbulences, while the TV images seldom touched the historical corner stone of 1967 riot which had interwoven with forces from “red China” (PRC was undergoing Cultural Revolution when 1967 riot took place). The case of HSBC’s “Fishermen” television commercial (TVC), a corporate identity promotion to stress HSBC’s close connection with Hong Kong, used a realism documentary style to elaborate “Hong Kong spirit”. The black-and-white color tone, the expressive baritone male voice over, the close-up shots of details and the filmic lens projected a sense of “reality”—how a fisherman family overcome a number of natural disasters and successfully transform their business model to adapt to the new age. Again, highlighting the personal attributes (hardworking, resilience and adaptability) while ignoring some historical facts (HSBC enjoys a privileged role under the British colony), this commercial created a “Hong Kong miracle” (Tsang and Ma 2010). Doubtlessly, television had not only provided information and entertainment to the mass society, but also had quietly crafted and represented how people perceive the world. From “Ah Chian” (vs. Ching Wai), Crab Ting (vs. Fong) to the fisherman family in TVC, we peek into how the image and character of “Hong Kong people” are signified and represented through anchoring it at an ever-changing reference point: backward mainland China, uncontrollable international politics and savior-like British ruler. In this anchoring and identity-seeking process, television programs vividly delivered in front of our eyes “the history”. Hence, the boundary between the mediated and reality world became blurry.

Withering Hong Kong TV Culture? In only a few decades, Hong Kong’s television culture not only became one of the most important social sectors in the local society, but also a beacon-like industry and dominant cultural genre in the East Asian region. The inauguration of this industry is a result of Hong Kong being a meeting place, welcoming a considerable number of talents from multiple backgrounds: young talents who received education from foreign countries, local novice hands yet full of passion and perseverance and westerner



professionals from the commonwealth nations. In the turbulent social transition during the 1950s and 1980s: Cold War, influx of refugees, industrial transformation, 1967 riots, massive public housing projects and social welfare improvement, the rise of Hong Kong identity, the negotiation of Hong Kong’s future and a lot more, Hong Kong television along with the mass population experienced a vibrant growth, from a young industry that served the elite class, to a dominant popular cultural field that anchored people’s daily joy and sorrow, to a social-political barometer that brewed the up-and-coming “Hong Kong identity”. In the journey that Hong Kong broadcasting sector strived for establishment of a public broadcast system, ruling class of the territory opted for commercial-driven competitiveness. The market rigor thus reached its peak when three commercial television stations co-existed in this tiny colony, along with the city’s matured radio broadcast system. This broadcasting industrial blossom was epitomized at the Broadcast Drive in Kowloon Tong, where main broadcast stations’ headquarters stood. Since the 1970s, television programs, which were equally arresting and diverse as the city’s vibrant film industry, led to a TV-centered popular cultural domain. However, the once fervently escalating television competitiveness was clogged along with the sudden withdraw of CTV and the continuous feeble shape of ATV.  Since then, TVB gradually became the quasi-monopoly in Hong Kong. Though popular dramas continued being talk of the town especially when grand-scale epic dramas were aired for special purposes (e.g. anniversary of television station), researchers and practitioners already spotted alarming signs of the industry. Changing Viewing Habit and Changing Demography In the late 1980s, it was already reported that people’s fondness toward television dramas was decreasing while more and more people rendered that TVB’s programs were only made in average quality. Far from reality, ridiculous, boring, lack of innovation and over-entertaining were the major comments from the public. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when television dramas kept bringing forth to mass audience non-stop genre novelty and illuminating interpretation of the social reality, watching TV was the most expecting daily activity as people could leave chores aside and gathered around the tiny shiny box. However, television industry in



the 1990s became much less attractive, as data shown in tables (Tables 4.9 and 4.10). The declining viewership and people’s dropping fondness over television programs were attributed to the change of demography in the society since the late 1980s, according to Ma (1992). The escalating literacy rate, larger group of college graduates, rising rate of working women, the smaller size of nuclear family (lower birth rate) and Hong Kong people’s more diverse and busier life mode all contributed to the dramatic change of people’s lifestyle and leisure habit. For example, higher education people tended to have higher expectancy over the television program quality because they had acquired cultural resources to compare local programs with foreign ones, hence they had become critical and active viewers instead of passive content receivers. Over time, housewives or women working at home were the major television audience population because they spent most of their time at Table 4.9  Viewing rate of ATV and TVB 1982–1991 Viewing rate at prime time Year

TVB Jade

1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991

45 46 44 43 41 45 39 36 35 31

ATV Golden/Home 11 7 8 8 8 4 4 8 9 10

Source: Ma KW 1992, War era of Hong Kong television, p. 19 Note: One viewing rate point equals 56,000 viewers (1% of the whole population) who are above 4 years old

Table 4.10  Viewing rate of TVB’s Miss Hong Kong Pageant final contest Year View rate













Source: Ma KW 1992, War era of Hong Kong television, p. 22



Table 4.11  Percentage of working women of different ages Age





20–24 25–34 35–44 45–54

51% 34% 38% 42%

70% 40% 39% 40%

80% 55% 53% 47%

84% 65% 53% 45%

Source: Ma KW 1992, War era of Hong Kong television, p. 35

home. Compared to other working population and school goers, women spent much time at home tended to have more flexibilities to watch TV programs. Hence, housewives were proved loyal audience of television in different time slots. However, as more and more women, especially those at their young age (before 40) joined the labor force, the number of daytime audience decreased, and the elevated education level of Hong Kong women had made them critical viewers (Table 4.11). An analysis of the audience viewing habits of TVB Jade indicated that time spent on television viewing had been decreasing radically. In the mid-­ 1980s, over 60% of the population were medium to heavy viewers. Average viewing time per person during prime time was 1.9 hours to 2 hours per night. However, in the 1990s, TVB Jade’s audience base of middle-to-­ heavy viewers seriously shrank. Average viewing time of every person during prime time declined to 1.5  hours per night. It is understood that television viewing drastically changed from a dominant entertainment form to a “necessary but not very important” activity (Ma 1992, p. 39) (Table 4.12). The change of viewing behavior was also due to the rising popularity of video-cassette devices available in ordinary families. Compared to the ­traditional mode of television viewing that required audience to sit in front of the television set at a fixed time slot for their favorite programs, the latest technology provided larger flexibility to people who were engaged in the increasingly vibrant Hong Kong urban life. Video-cassette recorder could capture the program if you were not free to be home during that particular time slot. Plus, leasing video-cassette or disk-recorded films had been an alternative home entertainment to the mass population due to its larger diversity and time-consuming flexibility. Other technological improvements in the 1990s causing the diversion of viewing behavior included the introduction of satellite television and



Table 4.12  TVB Jade audience viewing behavior Audience type

Average Viewing Hour Per Night

Percentage of Viewers (1985)

Percentage of Viewers (1990)

Change of Percentage

Heavy Medium Light None All viewers Average viewing per night

3 hours 2 hours 1 hour 0

32 31 29 8 100 1.9 hours

18 24 44 14 100 1.5 hours

−14 −7 +15 +6 −0.4

Source: Chan KC 1991, The media and telecommunications, in Richard Y. C. Wong and Joseph Y. S. Cheng (eds) The other Hong Kong report (pp. 507–536), p. 512

Table 4.13  Development of home video and video-leasing shops Year 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989

Percentage of Home Video Device Among All Families 17% 22% 30% 40% 62%

Number of Video-Leasing Shops 100 160 330 500 450

Source: Ma KW 1992, War era of Hong Kong television, pp. 49–50

cable television, which brought a larger number of channel choices to the audience and the prevalence of remote control, which produced “grazers” (those who like shuffling among different channels) (Ma 1992) (Table 4.13). Facing the change of people’s television viewing behavior and the challenges that new technologies entailed, local television stations, TVB and ATV strived to innovate their production by introducing more alternative genres of TV drama and more exciting entertainment shows, some of which were adopted from foreign nations. For example, broadcasting the 1990 FIFA World Cup Soccer Finals, a city-wide attraction, ATV broke the routine by rolling advertisements only during the half-time break. Such gesture significantly elevated the viewership and beaten TVB. In the mid-1990s and late 1990s, ATV launched infotainment-style public affair night shows such as Hong Kong Today/Jinri Dizhen Di 今日睇真D (1994–



2000) and TV-documentary programs such as Stories from Afar Series/ Xunzhao Taxiang De Gushi 尋找他鄉的故事 (1998–2004), which, with its historical depth, followed the pace of generations of Chinese migrants to disclose kaleidoscopic stories on alien lands. By investing considerable resources and introducing to Hong Kong audience the above semi-­ entertaining while largely educational programs, ATV once again won applause. Nevertheless, as usual, TVB soon learned the lesson and reacted by producing similar genres such as Focus On Focus/Chengshi Zhuiji 城市 追擊 (1994–1999) and On the Road Series/Xiang Shijie Chufa 向世界出 發 (2006–2008), which, though were obviously copycats of ATV, eventually retook the lost viewership. Television Appreciation Index ATV’s case showed that despite the failing performance in terms of viewership, quality of television program is a more multi-faceted complex than sheer number measurement. Hence, appreciation index (AI) offers an alternative quality-centered standard to more profoundly examine the overall performance of television programs and broadcasting stations. Having acknowledged that viewership may be contributed by a passive viewing habit, scholars hoped to find out the relationship between viewership, appreciation index, program type and demographic characteristics. They then learned from foreign experience and introduced to the local society an annual television appreciation survey system. From this system, audience were then offered a content-based evaluation of TV station performance. It has been widely consented in Western countries that the number of viewers and their appreciation of the programs are the two core factors to evaluate a television program (Leggatt 1993). Besides the quantity factors (viewing time and viewership), the reaction from and the appreciative sentiment of the audience toward television programs’ filming technique, resource invested, ways of expression, clarity of deliberation and innovation from the production teams are important indexes. Moreover, in order to have a clear picture of television program quality, scholars have pointed out that the degree of enjoyment and program quality should be measured separately (Gunter et al. 1992). Sometimes public affairs programs that tackle serious social problems fail to produce enjoyment to the mass audience, but their quality is highly acclaimed. BBC from the UK is the earliest broadcasting organization, since the World War II, that utilizes



appreciation index to evaluate broadcasting programs, rating people’s appreciation on their “interest” and “enjoyment” on certain programs. More refined measurements were produced in the United States in the post-war era, such as “enthusiastic quotient”, “performer quotient” and “appeal index”. AI, an equally crucial barometer to viewership rating, was later introduced to Hong Kong, providing to the television industry a larger picture of audience reaction. As a highly commercial city, performance of Hong Kong’s broadcasting organizations was largely based on to what extent their programs draw people’s attention, interest and appreciation. The more people like viewing their programs, the higher bargain power broadcasting stations had when negotiating with advertisers. RTHK, which launched its television service in the 1970s and had relied on commercial broadcasters to show their programs, was as well keen to understand the performance. Therefore, during 1991 and 1997, RTHK commissioned a commercial market research company to conduct audience appreciation index survey. In order to systemize and expand the scale of this survey into a longitudinal research, from 1999, RTHK invited practitioners and scholars to form an independent consultation committee and commissioned the polling center in the University of Hong Kong to carry out the survey. Before 1999, questions were measured at a 5-point scale and asked respondents as to what extent they like the programs. After 1999, a more refined measurement was introduced and asked respondents to rate, by using 1–100 score, different facets of different programs (So and Chung 2001). The table below shows summaries of the “Appreciation Index” (top 20 programs among around 200 programs in total each year) of Hong Kong television programs throughout 2000–2016. The programs all gain more than 5% awareness rate and are divided into three categories (public affairs, information and entertainment). Throughout two decades, data shows that RTHK had performed a leading role in terms of providing television programs that are highly acclaimed among Hong Kong people. It is conspicuous that programs of public affairs and information provision are most highly rated. Programs of global information are ranked top in terms of the appreciation index. This shows Hong Kong people’s enthusiasm and demand on knowing information beyond the tiny territory of Hong Kong. Noteworthy is that, though ATV had been for a long time outshined by TVB’s quasi-­monopoly,



it outperformed TVB and even RTHK in a number of years by presenting thought-provoking Stories from Afar Series. The joy and sorrow of migration population, the scenery and humane narration from the TV series, similar to global information programs, unveiled to Hong Kong people a broader outside world. However, as mentioned, TVB always strategically fights back by adopting competitor’s successful mode. After the great success of ATV’s Stories from Afar, TVB’s On the Road Series took the throne by, similarly, revealing human stories in different corners of the world. Interestingly, while Stories from Afar Series was categorized as information program by the Hong Kong Television Appreciation Index research unit, TVB’s On the Road Series was regarded as entertainment (Table 4.14).

Table 4.14  Hong Kong Television Appreciation Index 2000–2016 2000 Type of TV programs

1. Public affairs 5

2. Information 12

3. Entertainment 3

1. Public affairs 6

2. Information 12

3. Entertainment 2

Number of programs among the top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK Number of programs among the top 20 9 2 9 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 77.84 Top AI score program: Stories from Afar Series III/尋找他鄉的故事 III (ATV). Type of program: 2. Information; AI score: 81.19. 2001 Type of TV programs

Number of programs among the top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK Number of programs among the top 20 4 3 12 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 77.53 Top AI score program: Stories from Afar Series IV/尋找他鄉的故事 IV (ATV). Type of program: 2. Information; AI score: 81.29.




Table 4.14 (continued) 2002 Type of TV programs

1. Public 2. Information 3. affairs Entertainment Number of programs among the 6 8 6 top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK Number of programs among the 4 3 12 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 77.59 Top AI score program: Stories from Afar Series V/尋找他鄉的故事 V (ATV). Type of program: 2. Information; AI score: 81.30.

4. Cable 1

2003 Type of TV programs

1. Public 2. Information 3. affairs Entertainment Number of programs among the 7 8 5 top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK Number of programs among the 6 3 9 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 77.90 Top AI score program: Success Stories/傑出華人系列 (RTHK). Type of program: 2. Information; AI score: 79.49.

4. Cable 2

2004 Type of TV programs

1. Public 2. Information 3. affairs Entertainment Number of programs among the 6 7 7 top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK Number of programs among the 7 1 10 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 77.67 Top AI score program: Stories from Afar Series VI/尋找他鄉的故事 VI (ATV). Type of program: 2. Information; AI score: 80.01

4. Cable 2




Table 4.14 (continued) 2005 Type of TV programs

1. Public affairs 10

2. Information

3. Entertainment 2

Number of programs among the 8 top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK Number of programs among the 7 1 8 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 76.62 Top AI score program: Retrospect of 2005/2005大事回顧系列 (TVB). Type of program: 1. Public affairs; AI score: 79.05

4. Cable 4

2006 Type of TV programs

1. Public affairs 8

2. Information

3. Entertainment 2

Number of programs among the 10 top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK Number of programs among the 7 1 11 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 76.83 Top AI score program: On the Road Series/向世界出發 (TVB). Type of program: 3. Entertainment; AI score: 80.85

4. Cable 1

2007 Type of TV programs

1. Public affairs 6

2. Information

3. Entertainment 5

Number of programs among the 9 top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK Number of programs among the 9 0 9 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 76.9 Top AI score program: On the Road Series/向世界出發 (TVB). Type of program: 3. Entertainment; AI score: 80.81

4. Cable 2




Table 4.14 (continued) 2008 Type of TV programs

1. Public affairs 9

2. Information

3. Entertainment 5

Number of programs among 6 the top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK Number of programs among 9 1 9 the top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 77.07 Top AI score program: On the Road Series/向世界出發 (TVB). Type of program: 3. Entertainment; AI score: 80.47

4. Cable 1

2009 Type of TV programs

1. Public 2. Information affairs Number of programs among the 10 9 top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV Number of programs among the 8 1 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 76.80 Top AI score program: Rosy Business/巾幗梟雄 (TVB). Type of program: 3. Entertainment; AI score: 80.83

3. Entertainment 1 3. RTHK 11

4. Cable 0

2010 Type of TV programs

1. Public 2. Information affairs 5 11

Number of programs among the top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV Number of programs among the 5 2 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 76.39 Top AI score program: F.S.D./火速救兵 (RTHK). Type of program: 3. Entertainment; AI score: 78.52

3. Entertainment 3 3. RTHK 13

4. Cable 0




Table 4.14 (continued) 2011 Type of TV programs

1. Public 2. Information 3. affairs Entertainment Number of programs among the 10 9 1 top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK 4. Cable Number of programs among the 6 2 12 0 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 76.74 Top AI score program: Retrospect on 2011 Politics/2011 香港政情大事回顧 (RTHK). Type of program: 1. Public affairs; AI score: 77.92 2012 Type of TV programs

1. Public affairs 6

2. Information 3. Entertainment 12 2

Number of programs among the top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK Number of programs among the 4 0 16 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 76.06 Top AI score program: Elite Brigade III / 火速救兵III (RTHK). Type of program: 3. Entertainment; AI score: 80.01

4. Cable 0

2013 Type of TV programs

1. Public affairs 3

2. Information

3. Entertainment 0

Number of programs among the 17 top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK Number of programs among the 5 2 13 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 75.98 Top AI score program: Guardians of Life/守護生命的故事 (TVB). Type of program: 2. Information; AI score: 78.39

4. Cable 0




Table 4.14 (continued) 2014 Type of TV programs

1. Public 2. Information affairs 6 12

3. Entertainment 2

1. Public affairs 6

3. Entertainment 3

Number of programs among the top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV 3. RTHK 4. Cable Number of programs among the 5 1 14 0 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 73.72 Top AI score program: Fight Against Cancer Blessing Assembly/滅癌獻愛心報母恩弘大愛 大會 (ATV). Type of program: 3. Entertainment; AI score: 76.31 2015 Type of TV programs

2. Information

Number of programs among the 11 top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ATV Number of programs among the 7 1 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 74.14 Top AI score program: Big Big World/世界零距離 (TVB). Type of program: 2. Information; AI score: 78.01

3. RTHK 10

4. Cable 2

2016 Type of TV programs

1. Public affairs 6

2. Information

3. Entertainment 5

Number of programs among the 9 top 20 AI score Broadcasting provider 1. TVB 2. ViuTV 3. RTHK 4. Cable Number of programs among the 6 3 9 2 top 20 AI score Average AI score of top 20 programs: 73.82 Top AI score program: Retrospect of 2016 International Politics/2016 國際風雲大事回顧 (RTHK). Type of program: 1. Public affairs; AI score: 76.45 Source: Table is summarized by the author based on information from the Hong Kong Television Appreciation Index (RTHK). Access via http://rthk9.rthk.hk/special/tvai/2017/



The Comes and Goes in the TV Market Withdrawal of ATV At the end of ATV evening news on April 1, 2016, two female anchors spoke to audience “Hope Hong Kong people continue to support ATV as the past fifty years. We will see you.” This landmark announcement symbolized the last breath of ATV. In the mid-night, ATV brought its half-­ century’s life to an end. The failure of ATV marked a history: for the first time, Hong Kong government rejected the application of television license renewal from a local broadcasting service. Despite the ebbs and flows, ATV failed to walk out of the shroud from the sturdy prowess of TVB. Non-­ stop chaos among the changing company owners and the financial crisis further ensnared ATV. It was on April 4, 2015 that the Executive Council announced the decision. After dropping of curtain for ATV, the original ATV transmission channel was immediately transferred to RTHK31, a free-to-air television channel operated by RTHK. In retrospect, high-quality television programs made by ATV had played a critical part in Hong Kong people’s cultural life and the ­formation of Hong Kong identity. Besides the mentioned Stories from Afar Series, ATV had strived to refresh Hong Kong people’s television culture by importing foreign genres or technological innovations. In the era when ATV was in hands of Lam Pak-yan and Deacon Chiu families, frugality governed the business operation. At the same time, new genres of television programs were introduced. For example, in 1993, ATV brought the broadcasting license of Justice Pao/Bao Qingtian 包青天 (1993) from Taiwan and attracted wide range of audience. Stories of a respected and fair justice named Pao in ancient China, the Soong dynasty, together with his colleagues, filled Hong Kong people’s leisure time with plots full of twists and turns—an appealing ancient detective story. In 1995, in cooperation with a mainland Chinese television station, ATV brought forth to Hong Kong audiences a new version of Justice Pao/Bao Qingtian 包青天 (1995), which carried the same title as the 1993 version. This newly made program was in turn purchased by Taiwan. In 1998, right after the 1997 handover, capitals from mainland China for the first time invested in ATV.  Liu Changle (劉長樂) from the mainland-­background Phoenix Satellite Television, a Hong Kong registered media organization aiming at broadcasting to global Chinese, as well



as Wu Zheng (吳征) from Shanghai, husband of a famous television host Yang Lan 楊瀾, became major hosts of ATV (ATV 2003). Since then, ATV had been said under grip of capitalists from “red China” (HKJA 2013). To reduce cost and seeing the success from broadcasting Justice Pao, ATV started to massively purchase foreign programs, while a number of which turned to be extremely appealing to local audience. For example, the Taiwan-origin My Fair Princess/Huanzhu Gege 還珠格格 (1998) was purchased from Taiwan and aired on ATV in 1999. Though TV dramas of fairy tale and romantic stories in the Qing imperial family were familiar to Hong Kong audience, the vaudeville-like royal-civilian encounters acted by a group of young and energetic actors turned over the conventional genre rules and soon caught city-wide attention. Thus, My Fair Princess and its sequels became ATV classics. In 2001, ATV purchased the franchise of an international television game show originated from the British Independent Television. ATV produced the Hong Kong local version Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?/ Baiwan Fuweng 百萬富翁 (2001), hosted by Kenneth Chan Kai-tai (陳啟 泰). Compared to normal knowledge contests, this show brought to contests takers, audience in and out of the filming studio not only intellectual and bravery challenges, but also this television contest excited the whole town city through Monday, Wednesday and Friday and very soon audience tuned to ATV for the electrifying moments every other day. In July 2001, TVB’s Miss Hong Kong Pageant contest was seriously beaten by the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?—Fund-raising Charity Show, which gained over 60% viewership (Sing Tao Daily July 17th 2001). This popular program successfully rescued ATV from its low tie. However, in the following decades, due to ATV’s frequent change of shareholders and the unstable external environment (e.g. the 2003 SARS and 2008 Asian financial crisis), ATV showed ever more fatigue. In 2009, massive layoffs led to 20% cut of staffing. Even so, financial crisis still haunted ATV and rumors of bankruptcy spread. In 2010, mainland businessman Wang Zheng (王征) became the biggest shareholder of ATV and announced series of reformation measures to resurrect the company. In the low tie, ATV shocked the mass audience by announcing the “death” of China’s former chairman Jiang Zemin. On July 6, 2011, during the evening news headline, the shocking news was announced accompanied by a short summary of Jiang’s biography. Later the news was affirmed a misinformation and ATV was investigated by the Broadcasting Authority. The incident of reporting the fake news of “death of Jiang



Zemin” eventually turned out the last straw on camel’s back, leading to serious precipitation of credibility of ATV news in Hong Kong society. The organizational management got worse in 2014 when ATV failed to pay salary to the staffs. In the same year, the Communications Authority (former Broadcasting Authority) reached a preliminary consensus on the denial of ATV’s application of broadcasting license renewal. In the following year, rumors about ATV’s potential new buyer, restructuring of shareholdings and earthquake among the managerial level spread all over, while appeal cases to the Labor Department from ATV’s staffs were non-stop due to the delay of salary payment. Eventually, a final decision from the Executive Council, under the recommendation from the Communication Authorities, was announced to terminate the malfunctioning broadcasting service of ATV. Cable TV Service Among the controversies of ATV and criticism against TVB’s increasingly pro-establishment style and deteriorating quality of television dramas (Chow and Nip Nov 22, 2012),27 paid television service landed in the market. As early as 1993, Wharf Cable Television (aka Cable TV) was issued a 12-year broadcasting license, and another cable TV service Now TV owned by the PCCW Limited (Pacific Century Cyber Works) started operation in 2003. As TVB was already a quasi-monopoly free-to-air television station, Cable and Now joined the market by providing over 100

27  TVB has been mocked by citizens, especially those active in the online world, as “CCTVB”, a combination of China Central Television and TVB.  Controversial incidents have taken place since 2009 when TVB, instead of putting the twentieth anniversary of the June 4 commemoration at the headline, listed other local news prior to reporting the commemoration ceremony. For over 20 years, June 4 memorial events have been core to Hong Kong citizens as Hong Kong remains the only Chinese society in the world that holds largescale (with over 100,000 participants) commemoration every year. The way that TVB dealt with the June 4 news was under serious attack by the citizens. Besides news broadcasting, TVB’s television drama production quality has faced serious critiques as well, for its cliché plots and lack of seriousness in making costume dramas.In an interview with the South China Morning Post, TVB’s top manager, Mark Lee commented on the difficulties that TVB was facing at the cross road of market competition and public opinion. See Vivienne Chow and Amy Nip, November 22, 2012, TVB executive says no room for new players, South China Morning Post, http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1090717/tvb-executivesays-no-room-new-players.



and over 200 channels, respectively, inevitably generating fierce competition to TVB. Actually, by the time of the early 1990s, Hong Kong household televisions were already able to receive programs from Taiwan, mainland China, Japan along with sports and entertainments from western countries, through satellite television services such as STAR TV. In 2004, TVB Galaxy Satellite Broadcasting Limited obtained a domestic pay television license and began to broadcast 35 channels. By the 2000s, there were already 30 non-domestic licenses granted to satellite television stations, including STAR TV, China Entertainment and Phoenix Satellite TV. The entering of the Phoenix, owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation, at the first few years brought threats to TVB and ATV, as Phoenix produced programs, ranging from mass entertainment to political commentary, that aimed at global Sinophone population. Without much doubt, the 1990s marked a turning point to the worldwide television industry following the advancement of technologies: the significant expansion of transmission bands which brought forth burgeoning viewing channels, the prevalence of satellite television and cable television. In many western countries, such technological revolution enormously challenged their previous mediascape that used to be dominated by state-­ owned media. The former educational and cultural literacy-oriented broadcasting service was forced to open up to more entertainment-­ oriented style, such as BBC in the UK. Nevertheless, the tastes of audience were not that easily transformed by the change of the industry. According to research, the mass audience was still fond of local production over the huge variety of programs shown on paid channels. After all, television production is a business that requires considerably enormous investment of financial, time and human resources. The expansion of production room did not necessarily lead to bursting of creativity, while, on the other hand, invited repetition of production mode and standardization of contents in order to reduce production cost (Ma 1992, pp. 68–85). Long Overdue New Comer Despite the joining of paid television providers, Hong Kong’s television-­ scape has been criticized for lack of rigor due to the malfunctioning of ATV and TVB’s monopoly role. After the closing down of ATV, TVB literally became the only commercial free-of-charge television station. In 2009, Hong Kong government opened the door for application of new



free-to-charge television license. This was regarded a long-awaited yet long overdue move by the government. After the hasty ceasing of CTV in 1978, 30 years had passed when new application was open again in 2009. Three competitors joined the contest: Hong Kong TV Network (HKTV) established by businessman Ricky Wong (王維基), Fantastic TV by the Cable Television and the HKTVE (later named Viu TV) by the PCCW. In 2013, a decision was made by the government that only two new licenses would be issued, and the winners went to Fantastic TV and Viu TV. Among these three applicants, HKTV was the one that gained highest expectancy in the competition. When Hong Kong TV Network Limited (HKTV) was refused its free-to-air TV license, it unexpectedly led to a wave of street activism. Supporters staged overnight rallies outside the government headquarters to demand an explanation from the government and urge the authority to revoke the decision. Given that Ricky Wong, the CEO of HKTV, invested heavily in procuring human, technology and publicity resources to free-TV production in a high-profile manner after filing the application, the government refusal to grant HKTV the license of free TV ignited wide-spreading disputes. Amid non-stop questioning from mass media and civilians, the government emphasized that “a gradual and orderly approach” has been taken and had “considered a range of considerations”, which, however, were retained by the official under the confidentiality agreement.28 Apparently, such official explanation failed to calm protestors down on the HKTV issue. Attracted by HKTV’s bandwagon-like premier performance while disappointed by other two candidates’ low-profile promotion, Hong Kong citizens were infuriated by the black-box Executive Council decision-making, and they casted grave suspicion over the fairness and neutrality of the result. Hong Kong cultural scholar Lisa Leung argued that the HKTV issue unveiled Hong Kong government’s colonial mind-set that is under the disguise of laissez-faire. The campaigns implied Hong Kong citizen’s increasing demand on a deserved cultural right, democracy and autonomy, especially situated in the erosion of political autonomy by China’s central government that Hong Kong has encountered since 2008. Therefore, the

28  Remarks by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development on domestic free television program service license applications. Obtained from Hong Kong government information office, October 16, 2013, https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201310/16/ P201310160459.htm.



struggle against the hegemonic practices of media monopolization became the raison d’être for a social movement in 2013. Thousands of citizens and concern groups were organized and online signature petitions were launched to protest against the blatant injustice exerted against HKTV—an HKTV protest. Even though after the negative result from the government that Ricky Wong had to cut 320 jobs, these ex-employees were the first batch of activists to denounce government’s decision. Protesters demonstrated with slogans such as “I want my TV box set, not blackbox deals!” Later the demonstration evolved into an occupation of the government public spaces. “HKTV’s CEO Ricky Wong was able to capitalize on the rhetoric of ‘free-to-air’ TV to associate with the public imaginary of the ‘publicness’ of TV … it inherited the stress on a ‘local consciousness’ as distinguished from a forced upon ‘national’ identity … the role of television in the shaping of a local cultural identity reinforce how free television has been pivotal in shaping the ‘collective memory’ of Hong Kong people” (Leung 2015, pp. 428–429). The HKTV protest epitomized a corner stone in Hong Kong history that ordinary citizens took to the street demanding the right to enjoy certain kind of popular cultural enjoyment. In addition, for the first time, Hong Kong popular culture was turned into a political movement. Unlike TV-related protests in the past days as appeals were voiced out from media company staffs who were treated unfairly, the 2013 HKTV movement drew thousands of commoners to publicly express their concern on the city’s popular cultural development, which was found out under political grip. It is still unknown if the refusal to HKTV was associated with Ricky Wong’s pro-democracy and liberaltarian stance, but we have witnessed wider possibilities and escalating trend in the industry to interlock popular cultural products with the city’s dynamic political trend. HKTV produced Hong Kong’s first election-theme TV drama, which was released on its online platform and soon stirred intensive discussion. The newly established free television, Viu TV, innovated infotainment program genre by mingling elements such as reality show, travel, celebrity, politics and entertainment—the popular components under heated discussion in today’s Hong Kong. Travel with Rivals/Genzhe Maodun Qu Lvxing 跟著矛盾去 旅行 was launched by Viu TV in 2016. Politicians with opposite political stances were invited to travel to foreign places together and on-trip conversation and even debates were captured against the backdrop of picturesque exotic scenery. Public affair and domestic political issue-related



farce, satire and vaudeville have been increasingly utilized in popular culture in Hong Kong. Beyond discussion scope in this book yet worthy of serious research is the blossoming internet-based “meme” culture and derivative works made into alternative TV and video programs, such as the TVMost/毛記電視. Amongst the city’s heated criticism toward TVB monopoly, TVMost made most of their online video programs through making fun of TVB and casting satires on latest public affairs. Along with TVMost, a lot more small-scale groups and even individuals joined force to energize Hong Kong’s popular cultural field, making it an increasingly diversified and vibrant realm to serve the equally diversified market niches.

Concluding Remarks Hong Kong’s television industry could never be understood fully without visiting her predecessors. Tales from 1928 paved the way of Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry and the whole cultural realm. From the air, information, entertainment and a set of diverse yet intangible cultural values transmitted into household, bonding the mass number of individual citizens into a unity called “Hong Kong”. The mushrooming broadcast audience population in post-war Hong Kong led to rapid development of broadcast culture. The versatile broadcasting programs in different languages broadly served the community which then was constituted of a huge group of mainland refugees, locals living in town and village as well as a considerable number of foreign populations. Another tale was kicked off in 1957 when Rediffusion became Hong Kong’s first commercial television provider. First a privilege to the middle-­ upper class in the territory, Rediffusion later faced its competitor, TVB, and soon the two television stations altogether crafted an even stronger Hong Kong culture due to the free-of-charge service and more enchanting sonic-visual enjoyment provided to the wide range of population. Once upon a time, competition in the broadcasting industry reached to its post-war era height as five broadcasting and television stations were located on a road that was only a kilometer long—the Broadcast Drive below of Lion Rocks. Television drama series of different genres and on different themes were brought forth one after another by three commercial television stations—TVB, RTV and CTV.  During prime time every night, estate zones were filled with resounding television drama theme



songs and on the other day, plots of the drama series became talk of the town. Since the 1970s, the variation of television drama themes, from late imperial costume dramas to urban fashion dramas filled people’s savors that were deeply embedded in Hong Kong’s turbulent social change. The grandiose heroism, uncertainties and anxieties of life, as well as the good, the bad and the ugly humanities had mirrored the equally enchanting human world. Thus, the blossoming of television drama culture supplemented with non-ceasing hits from theme songs made television part of people’s everyday life. Notably, the thriving television culture was never free from challenge. Hong Kong since the 1970s also experienced its social and industrial transformation followed by an expanding size of working force (especially women workers), growing number of high-education receivers as well as the birth of the so-called middle class. The skyrocketing economy, improvement of living conditions and change of demographic composition altogether facilitated growth of critical viewers, who demanded more diverse choice of programs and more finely produced programs that spoke with and for the people. Below the Lion Rocks series by RTHK was a critical corner stone against the backdrop of Hong Kong in transition. No other cultural medium than free Hong Kong television in the 1980s could mirror and shape Hong Kong’s immediate social reality. Identity categorization was so vividly demonstrated in drama series that the name of the acting role turns to be an idiom in the city’s cultural system. “Ah Chian”, since that landmark television drama in 1979, connotes far beyond the role itself. It relays to a social phenomenon and a social culture where people spend every effort to distinguish “us” from “them”, “superior” from “inferior” and “good” from “bad”. Having been barometer and prism of the ever-changing social reality, high-quality TV dramas continued to appear on screen representing multi-faceted local social dynamics under various epochal backdrops. Like every social sector, ebbs and flows inevitably filled Hong Kong’s television broadcasting industry. Critical events and disputes, such as the failing of CTV in the course of overcoming the dilemma of showing education programs and commercial shows, the incessant deteriorating business of ATV, the mounting criticism of TVB, the controversies over issuing new television licenses and the role of government in the cultural industry never failed to bombard the industry against the backdrop of socio-­ political tension crescendos in Hong Kong. As discussed by cultural scholar Lisa Leung, under the disguise of laissez-­faire “legacy”, the Hong Kong government failed to play an active



role in promoting or preserving the city’s robust cultural industry. In the early days, the government already showed a passive stance toward the development of the colony’s broadcasting business. It was civilian groups that kicked off this important social sector while the government acted as simply a follower. In the following decades, though debates on forwarding a Hong Kong public broadcast system seldom ceased, the government held its all-time reluctance while opted a market-driven path for the city. This long-haul journey once had a silver lining in the 1980s when the Broadcasting Authority gave the nod to the corporatization and public broadcast transformation for RTHK.  However, the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre and escalating frictions between the British colonial government and PRC eventually struck a stopping note on Hong Kong broadcasters’ persistent endeavors in building public broadcast media that Hong Kong citizens had long deserved. The 2013 HKTV protest further exposed the backward role of the Hong Kong government facing people’s mounting quest for a more rigorous local cultural industry. While the distribution of air waves is still under control by the government, Hong Kong talents never cease to keep pace with the time especially amid fierce challenges from the internet world and neighboring regions where governments take a more proactive role in the industry. Discussion Questions

1. Originated from the British BBC model, how did Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry localize in ages of pre-war and post-war? 2. Compared to the 1970s when only three free television stations existed in the territory, in the 2000s, we enjoy a larger variety provided by free television, paid television and internet. However, people increasingly memorize the 1970s as the “golden age”. How to examine this view of this phenomenon? 3. “Ah Chian” makes a landmark in Hong Kong cultural history, while, in today’s society, terms such as “Hong Kong Chian” are invented to mock the reverse economic status between Hong Kong and mainland China. Do you see relevant reflection in television programs? 4. In the 1970s, the sudden death of CTV caused series of protests. In 2013, the rejection of HKTV’s broadcasting license application led to even much larger scale of protests. Compare these two television-related social incidents.



References Abbas A, 1997, Hong Kong: Culture and the politics of disappearance. MN: University of Minnesota Press. Apple Daily, 2015, Manuscripts from James Wong revealed that “Below the Lion Rocks” lyric was originally “Hong Kong long live forever” (黃霑手稿揭《獅子 山下》歌詞本為「香港千秋萬歲」), July 2, 2015, accessed via https://hk. news.appledaily.com/local/realtime/article/20150702/53924363 ATV 2003, 46th Anniversary (亞洲電視46周年特刊). Hong Kong: Asia Television Limited. Census and Statistics Department 1984, Television and sound broadcasting survey, Hong Kong. Chan, KC 1991, The media and telecommunications, in Richard YC Wong and Cheng Joseph YS (eds), The other Hong Kong report, pp.  507–536, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press. Cheung, KW 2009, Hong Kong’s watershed: The 1967 riots. Hong Kong University Press. Cheung, KY 2006, The path of RTHK to become public broadcasting (初探香港 電台公營廣播之路), Media Digest 傳媒透視, Oct 16, 2006. Chin, W 2008, The days we broadcast – RTHK 80-years anniversary (我們一起廣 播的日子- 香港電台八十年). Ming Pao Publishing. Chow, V & Nip, A 2012, TVB executive says no room for new players, South China Morning Post, November 22. Accessed via http://www.scmp.com/ news/hong-kong/article/1090717/tvb-executive-says-no-room-new-players Chung, PYS 2011, Hundred-year of Hong Kong Film Industry (香港影視業百年), Hong Kong: Joint Publishing Hong Kong. Gunter, B, Clemens, J & Wober, M 1992. Defining television quality through audience reaction measures. London: Independent Television Commission. HKJA (Hong Kong Journalists’ Association). 2013. Annual Report 2013 – Dark Clouds on the Horizon: Hong Kong’s Freedom of Speech Faces New Threats. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Journalists’ Association Hughes, R 1976, Borrowed place, borrowed time: Hong Kong and its many faces. Andre Deutsch Ltd Lee, LF 2002, Radio phone-in talk shows as politically significant infotainment in Hong Kong, The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 57–79. Leggatt, T 1993, Quality in television: The views of professionals. Studies of Broadcasting: An International Annual of Broadcasting Science, vol. 29, pp. 37–69. Leung, L 2015, (Free) TV cultural rights and local identity: the struggle of HKTV as a social movement, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 422–435.



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Worlding Hong Kong TV

Chapter Overview The story of Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry starts from 1928. Straddling at the juncture of the centennial anniversary of Hong Kong broadcasting service, we trace the steps and re-discover the role that Hong Kong broadcasting industry (radio broadcast and later television) has ever played beyond its home territory: how Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry has connected with the global Sinophone community and with the world. Hong Kong cultural scholar, Eric Ma once commented in his book Desiring Hong Kong, Consuming South China (2012) that, Hong Kong as a port city and once an Asia’s leading cultural producer has experienced radical changes: while the stiff geographical and political boundary seldom circumvented the porous cultural penetration from Hong Kong to South China, the dissolution of border after the 1997 handover transforms the ways of cultural exchange instead of enhancing the Hong Kong-centric cultural dissemination. Once mainland refugees flooded in this former British colony hoping for a more stable and affluent life, a reverse yet gloomy process has been identified as Hong Kong cultural professionals head north to seek better fortune. Hong Kong’s television culture, a former role model among the East Asian world, has turned from a cultural “teacher” to “co-producer”, along with the process of deepening Hong Kong-China integration.

© The Author(s) 2020 K. J. Wang, Hong Kong Popular Culture, Hong Kong Studies Reader Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8817-0_5




Nevertheless, Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry, the second earliest among all British colonies, for a long time took multiple roles: the British colonial cultural frontier in the anti-communist war, the cultural exemplar/preacher/broker among the global Sinophone community and a co-­ producer in the context that more frequent border-crossing mutual cultural exchange takes place. In the wartime and during the prolonged Cold War, Hong Kong functioned as an ideological battlefield due to its special geo-political location, so did its broadcasting service. Under the shadow of wars, with either gunfire or not, Hong Kong was a hub of information flow. Social transformation and modernization entailed ceasing of warfare. In this process, Hong Kong television workers were “modernization” teachers to the large number of Cantonese speakers in South China in the age when mainland China still turned its back to non-socialist culture. Moreover, similar to Hong Kong’s renowned film industry, Hong Kong television businessmen were never satisfied with the local market but actively reached out to the much wider overseas community. Following the trend that mainland Chinese market opened its market after entering World Trade Organization (WTO) and Hong Kong local media development is structurally clogged, Hong Kong cultural professionals are drifted northward for a more promising market. From the production of an all-­time cultural icon “Ah Chian” in Chap. 4, which signified a cultural hierarchy, to nowadays structural hybridization in television industries between Hong Kong and mainland China, we unwrap the ever-lasting Hong Kong-China dynamics in this chapter.

Ideological Frontier and Information Hub Frontier in Wartime Less than a decade after the establishment of Hong Kong’s first broadcasting service in 1928, with the transmission signal ZBW, the devastating Sino-Japan war broke out. Hong Kong fell into Japanese hands on the Christmas day of 1941. Before Hong Kong’s fall, as the war raged across the mainland of Republic of China, a huge number of mainlanders fled to Hong Kong. In those days, the border between the colonized Hong Kong and China remained open. When Guangzhou fell into the hands of Japanese troops in late 1938, the number of refugees entering Hong Kong drastically increased. As a territory adjacent to Guangdong province where Guangzhou was the capital city, Hong Kong became the first choice to hundreds of millions of shelter seekers.



Against such backdrop, archives vividly reveal that, during World War II, Hong Kong’s broadcast station already took a significant role as a frontier propaganda apparatus.1 After the fall of Guangzhou, Japanese imperial propaganda was soon widely launched through different media channels, such as newspapers and radio broadcasts, among which a considerable proportion was anti-­British broadcasting. Anti-British propaganda tried to persuade Guangdong residents who had fled to Hong Kong to return to Guangdong. Gaslighting was employed with misinformation widely distributed to civilians: massive breaking out of tuberculosis, extremely costly living in Hong Kong, plague in Chinese residential areas, police corruption problems and so on. In the second half of 1938, not only in Guangzhou, but also in Shanghai, Nanjing and elsewhere under Japanese control, anti-British and anti-Europe propaganda was virally sprawled including comments about British violent aggression in China and other Asian countries. The dissemination of propaganda was mainly through radio broadcast, Japanese-­ controlled press (Chinese and English), pamphlets and public forums. The Chinese version was for Chinese residents, while the English version of propaganda targeted Indians who mainly lived in Shanghai. British communities in Republic of China, amid the escalating intense situation, reported to London and asked for advice. Getting permission from London, British took strong measures to offset the propaganda impact from the Japanese side. Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce based in Shanghai hence suggested to the commerce chamber in Hong Kong that Hong Kong broadcasting service station should be in great use to formulate a wartime pro-British broadcasting force. By that time, Hong Kong was not yet under Japanese occupation. The then Governor of Hong Kong, Geoffrey Northcote sought approval from London in regard of utilizing Hong Kong broadcast system to take the official role of giving out “suitable counter-propaganda of a strictly factual nature from Hong Kong broadcasting station”. Battle of information then took place with Hong Kong as the central base. “All such matter would be carefully compiled by a responsible committee of Government officers probably assisted by a university trained Chinese”. Besides remarks from Lord Halifax (then Foreign and Colonial office  secretary) that the content broadcasted must be factually based 1  This part of information is gathered from CO323-1650-2: Use of broadcasting station to counteract anti-British propaganda. The National Archives, London.



and objective, general guidance was also given to Hong Kong by the Foreign Publicity Department in London, such as: The picture is to build up by giving listeners a steady stream of objective, factual information, meticulously accurate, and impartially presented.

When facing malicious misinformation from Japanese government, what would be needed was “more aggressive tone, directed to exposing the weakness and defects of ‘the other side’”. In cases of countering lies, “what is wanted, as a rule, is to expose the lie by giving the truth in detail”. The London foreign office very soon affirmed the significant role of Hong Kong broadcast station in the crucial juncture of counter-Japan propaganda. The London office thus further requested key British persons in Shanghai to assist the Hong Kong side by providing necessary information and factual materials in order to heighten the anti-Japan propaganda effectiveness. The counter-Japan propaganda broadcasting was later not only disseminated in Hong Kong, but also reached the vast war-torn mainland China and even Sinophone communities around the globe. In addition to formulating a counter-Japan information hub among the huge size Chinese refugee community, Hong Kong broadcast also played an exceptionally crucial role for the Allied powers in WWII.  Via Hong Kong, an important communication bridge was built between husbands who fought in the war and wives who fled to Australia. The ZBW took messages in Hong Kong and sent them to the Hong Kong Government Liaison Officer in Australia who would keep the wives informed about the latest news of the soldiers. “Broadcast to Wives” therefore remained the only few communication channels in wartime among the Allied countries (RTHK 2008).2 A Frontier in Cold War The indispensable role of Hong Kong broadcast in the battle of information was carried on by the colonial government after World War II. Already transformed from ZBW/ZEK to Radio Hong Kong (RHK), this official broadcast station of the territory continued serving as the information and 2

 In RTHK 2008, 80 Things about RTHK, Item 41.



ideological frontier of the British government in the Far East region, especially in the face of rising power from China’s communism as the Chinese Communist Party took over the mainland China in 1949. As part of the anti-communism camp, the Radio Hong Kong disseminated Western-­ centric discourse when the Cold War was imminent. It is documented that, in 1955, the then Hong Kong Governor Alexander Grantham once advocated privatizing RHK in order to enhance the competitiveness of this broadcasting organ in the battle to counter communist ideological power disseminated from air. The Colonial Office in London, however, raised objection to this suggestion, considering that in the crucial smokeless anti-communist war, the colonial government should take thorough and stronger control over an official broadcast channel to distribute necessary policy and proper cultural programs. Hence, in the following years after WWII, instead of selling RHK, the colonial government invested in an ever-largest scale to RHK equipment and personnel arrangement. By doing this, the quality of broadcast was heightened to a great extent (Chin 2008, pp. 218–219). Taking full responsibility of RHK operation, in the batter of anti-­ communism, the then Director of Broadcast, D.E. Brooks reminded that, compared to political issues, cultural topics should have brought heavier concerns among broadcast staffs. Contents of mass cultural interest were better received by audience than those of political affairs. Thus, broadcasting cultural subjects would attract more listeners and broadcast efficiency would be increased. The rationale behind this was that, as people could tell the political intention simply from reading political news, cultural products, such as Cantonese and Mandarin folk songs, were too elusive to tell whether it disseminated political messages or showed humanistic pursuit. For example, songs that expressed pursuit of freedom, which though alluded to the right-camp freedom from China, would be more acceptable to the masses than the songs hoisting an anti-communism banner or a political propaganda passage. Hence, cultural products under different categories needed meticulous examination and evaluation. In the process of handling cultural matters, staffs were instructed to carry out the ­censorship with “very light hand”; otherwise, the creativity of RHK would be constrained and the mutual trust between Hong Kong’s large Chinese community and the colonial government would be destroyed. However, censorship on Chinese cultural products in Hong Kong broadcast, later on, was actually conducted in a scrupulous rather than an acclaimed light



way. For example, songs about hero stories in ancient China were censored by the RHK. Folk songs from East Europe were banned too. In the same line with the propaganda strategy in the wartime, instead of imposing positive image of Hong Kong, a fact-based description of the current conditions worked in a more effective way. For example, according to Brooks, it is better to emphasize the positive living conditions in Hong Kong than to compare Hong Kong with war-torn China. By doing so, this British style of pragmatic propaganda, to the colonial government, took better effect than KMT on-exile government’s high-profile antagonistic anti-communist broadcast (Chin 2008, pp. 23–25). Congruent with the mentioned rules of British Foreign Publicity Department, from the wartime to the post-war era, not only propaganda strategies but also the way of running the official broadcast station adopted similar principles of pragmatism. Pragmatic Language Policy Language policy, to certain extent, is as well under the same umbrella of pragmatism. Before WWII, multi-language policy was already adopted by the Hong Kong broadcast system. By doing so, information disseminated by the government broadcast station could reach wider residential communities where people spoke different Sinitic languages. These people, besides those from Guangzhou who spoke the “orthodox Cantonese”, a lot many were people from different parts across mainland China who migrated to or sought shelter in Hong Kong in different historical periods. In addition, a large number of Hong Kong locals were fishermen who spoke Hakka or Hokkien. Broadcasting in different Sinic languages, therefore, made people from geographical and cultural backgrounds better informed. The multi-language broadcasting policy continued as a larger influx of refugees from mainland China settled in Hong Kong to escape the civil war between CCP and KMT. In the context that Hong Kong became a lifeboat to the immense number of refugees, RHK news was broadcasted in Cantonese, Mandarin, Teochew and Hakka in the 1950s. In addition to news about public affairs, information closely related to daily life, such as wet market price updates and sea weather reports, was included. To many Hong Kong residents who lived on their own fishing boats, radio listening



was not only the most convenient and reliable way to get informed about the latest weather condition, but also an important cultural activity as people could enjoy a wide range of programs from Cantonese opera singing to children’s stories. To be informed and entertained was also the main purpose that drove mass population make radio listening part of their daily life. From Multi-Language to Cantonese Broadcast This multi-linguistic policy lasted until the late 1960s when an audience survey indicated the serious disadvantage of non-Cantonese broadcasting due to the seriously shrinking proportion of non-Cantonese-speaking listeners. Therefore, Cantonese broadcasting became the only Chinese broadcasting language under an acclaimed advocacy of “build a sense of belonging” (RTHK 2004, p. 8).3 Yet the validity of such identity-building intention could not be confirmed through examining archival documents, the Cantonese-dominant broadcast system that constituted of serious news broadcast and mass entertainment might have played a significant role in the later decades formulating a Hong Kong-style language system and thus a cultural taste. As discussed in Chap. 4, how broadcast anchors talked and how social occurrences were deliberated on Hong Kong’s official and commercial radio programs had brought far-reaching social impact as people’s daily conversation assembles to those from radio programs. Such linguistic and cultural impact later even influenced those living on the other side of the Hong Kong-China border. What will be illustrated soon is the fact that, at the brink of PRC door-opening policy, people from Guangdong province, a door step to the British colonial land, tried hard to receive information from Hong Kong to know the outside world. In addition, cultural professionals, who first re-established the provincial broadcast system, heavily relied on what they had listened and watched from Hong Kong’s broadcast and television programs. These programs, at the threshold of PRC economic reform, introduced to mainland people refreshed cultural life that struck a strong note of Hong Kong style. 3  According to the memory of Chan Wai-man, the director of the Chinese channel in the 1950s, there was a former colonial officer who advocated Cantonese as the only broadcasting language in order to build a sense of belonging among the population.



Border-Crossing Business and Cultural Impact The territory of Hong Kong with a few million population could hardly sustain the continuous prosperity of a domestically based cultural industry. As early as the pre-war era, Hong Kong film professionals already sought to explore overseas markets by introducing made-in-Hong Kong cultural products to the vast Sinophone overseas population. Similar to the film industry, Hong Kong television industry also set foot on the global market. Besides purchasing television programs from foreign countries (usually from west Europe and America) to fill the air time, in the 1980s, local productions in local language already dominated the air time, including soap operas, variety shows, situation comedies, news programs, television magazines and a small proportion of Cantonese-dubbed foreign films. Noteworthy is that, in the 1980s, among the 2000–3000 hours’ production of TVB, 1000 hours’ programs were exported to over 25 countries (Ma 1996, p. 41). This achievement showed breathtakingly rapid advancement of Hong Kong’s television industry, which, not until 1973, had started producing its own local soap opera series. In 1979, another breakthrough occurred. Hosts and performers from TVB’s signature program EYT crossed the border and performed in the Chinese New Year celebrative night in Guangzhou—for the first time after red China’s ten-year Cultural Revolution, people from Hong Kong and Guangzhou, two major Cantonese-speaking cities, again joined hands on the stage. More will be discussed in the next section regarding the significant influence of Hong Kong television on Guangdong’s cultural industry resurrection. TVB Overseas Business TVB has for a long time played the pioneer role in Hong Kong’s popular cultural field. As stated in the previous chapter, at the beginning of its business, TVB already triumphed over RTV thanks to its free-of-charge service. In the following years, TVB Jade soap operas brought to Hong Kong people a new look of cultural leisure life—enjoying stories of folklore and romance through daily visual and audio amusement. TVB’s most popular variety show, EYT, for over decades composited a significant part of Hong Kong people’s everyday after-dinner leisure time. In the 1970s TVB met another competitor—CTV—and for the first time TVB was under apparent threat from CTV, the new comer which introduced to the market groundbreaking martial art costume dramas. It



was also a cornerstone era in which three commercial television stations co-existed in Hong Kong. Waves of competition swept Hong Kong television industry, showcasing to the mass audience series of enchanting television programs. Despite ebbs and flows, among occasional challenges from CTV and RTV, TVB had strived to lead the industry and kept its leading position firmly standing. To note that, in addition to its burgeoning Hong Kong domestic business, overseas business had been playing a vital part in TVB’s growing entertainment empire. While television and advertising business in Hong Kong’s local market continued being the majority (the market share of TVB in the domestic market reached 80% in the 2000s), overseas business solely owned and managed by TVB, such as pay satellite television channels and home video leasing chains, kept TVB prospering its commercial and cultural impact out of Hong Kong. Besides, annually TVB procured a large variety of overseas incomes such as fixed asset and consultancy provision. In 1995, 20% of TVB’s annual turnover was from overseas business. TVB also established its own production centers in Taiwan and Southeast Asia, which were two major overseas markets to receive TVB drama series (Ma 1996, p. 47). It is not difficult to tell that the well-extended exportation network of TVB was largely inherited from the previous film mogul Shaw Brothers. A film businessman turned television empire pilot, Run Run Shaw, with his abundant experience running entertainment business in Southeast Asia since the pre-war era, helped TVB grow into a globally leading Asian media group. In the hands of Run Run Shaw and his partner Mona Fong, TVB went global since the 1980s. And TVB became a Hong Kong listed company in 1987. According to its annual reports, TVB was organized on a worldwide basis into five main business segments: • Terrestrial television broadcasting—free to air broadcasting of television programs and commercials and production of programs. • Program licensing and distribution—provision of television programs to home-video markets and overseas broadcasters. • Overseas satellite pay TV operations—provision of satellite pay television services to subscribers in United States, Europe and Australia. • Channel operations—compilation and distribution of television channels in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other countries.



• Other activities—animation production, merchandising services, website portal, magazine publication, movie investment and other related services. There are different means by which TVB exported its media products and services to other regions (To and Lau 1995): • Co-operative contract which implies a clear division of labor between partners. TVBS in Taiwan was the case of this type. As TVB was the sole supplier to TVBS and other cable operators, it formed alliance with local cable operators for easier program distribution. • Joint venture: TVB formed a partnership with British and Indian media groups to launch a satellite television channel in India. This form of joint venture allowed TVB to use local expertise (e.g. cultural sensitivity) and international support for new ventures in the new market. • Barter trade: exchange of program contents. • Management consultancy: provision of technological and knowledge expertise to foreign partners. Sales performance of TVB is generated in eight main geographical areas: • Hong Kong—terrestrial television broadcasting with program production, distribution of television channels, website portal, magazine publication and movie investment • Taiwan—cable television channel services (non-estate assets were disposed in 2015) • United States and Canada—licensing and distribution of television programs and channels and satellite pay TV operations • Australia—licensing and distribution of television programs and satellite pay TV operations • Europe—licensing and distribution of television programs and satellite pay TV operations • Mainland China—licensing and distribution of television programs and channels and satellite TV channel services • Malaysia and Singapore—licensing and distribution of television programs and channels • Other countries—principally licensing and distribution of television programs



TVB operated its own platforms in a number of key overseas markets, namely North America (United States), Australia and Europe under a subscription model. A number of channels were compiled by TVB: TVB produced or acquired programs to form a service pack. In recent years, in Hong Kong’s local market, TVB began to utilize the internet for distribution instead of via satellite services. Launched in April 2016, myTV SUPER, an internet-based channel, has become the leading Chinese-content OTT (over-the-top) platform with 50 TVB and international channels as well as more than 32,000 hours of video-on-­demand (VOD) programs. In countries within Europe and in Australia, viewers also enjoy TVB productions under a service named “TVB Anywhere”, a new internet-based service provided by TVB. That being said, TVB’s efforts in carving out a niche in overseas market only reached modest success. In Hong Kong’s domestic market, TVB heavily relied on cheap and efficient production which is mostly commercially driven, while many Hong Kong people got used to an inertia viewing habit and remained loyal to TVB. Outside Hong Kong, however, TVB was like a fish out of water, failing to meet the market diversity, especially facing the growing heteroglossia in Sinophone community around the world. Another reason that attributed to TVB’s less satisfying performance in overseas market was its costly start-up infrastructures. Instead of going through established cable operators in those countries, TVB built its own direct-to-home satellite system, which involved huge investment (Granitsas 2002). Nonetheless, TVB’s border-crossing influence was considerable. Besides transmitting TVB programs through television channels, television products were purchased by overseas television stations and pirated soap opera box sets were easy to find in night markets across Southeast Asia. Undocumented TVB consumption was hard to measure, yet had generated far-reaching influence. Even until now, through a simple keyword search on the internet, we could still find plenty of TVB drama episode excerpts subtitled or dubbed in various Southeast Asian languages. Malaysians born in the 1970s–1990s, who were descendants of Sinophone migrants, grew up with TVB. The business expansion of TVB into an international conglomerate is much less optimistic than its cultural impact.



TVB and Taiwan Market TVB’s Taiwan business for a long time had been a significant composition among the overseas business. In 1993, with Hong Kong TVB’s 70% shareholding and Taiwan ERA Group’s 30% shareholding, they co-found Liann Yee Production Co., Ltd. At the dawn of Taiwan’s democratization, in September 1993, TVBS Media Group had its debut as the very first privateowned TV Station in Taiwan. It even set up Taiwan’s first 24-hour news channel TVBS-N in 1995, epitomizing it the pioneer in news broadcasting. Before the prevalence of Japanese and South Korean television dramas in Taiwan, Hong Kong’s cultural products became the most appealing foreign visual culture to Taiwan locals who had underwent decades of martial law rule and for a long time could only receive programs from three state-owned national broadcasters. In the 1990s, through Taiwan TVBS, television products made in Hong Kong were transmitted to Taiwan. In the 1980s, Taiwan’s television dramas were mainly local melodramas (Xiangtuju, 鄉土劇) and costume dramas in the context of late Qing Dynasty imperial and the early republican China. What largely characterized Taiwan’s popular culture in the martial law era were traditional family-themed costume dramas that featured tensions in huge extended families. Values conveyed from the episodes were mostly dictated by the Confucian principle of filial piety. Hong Kong television dramas, in contrast, at the threshold of the 1990s brought to Taiwan people vivid demonstrations of urbanity and modernity against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s economic flight. These characteristics were narrated through melodramas of wealthy families which were involved in stock market, transnational business and even international crimes. A “global Hong Kong” was thus unveiled to Taiwan—Hong Kong was not only a giant step ahead of Taiwan, but the beacon of the Sinophone world. Equally enthralling were dramas that showcased everyday life of urban middle class from different professional occupations. A professional, civilized and vibrant Hong Kong thus was unfolded to hundreds of millions of Taiwan ordinary families with kaleidoscopic urban life. Another major genre of Hong Kong television drama—martial art costume dramas—was popular among Taiwan audience too. As Taiwan people were no less strange to epic historical costume films by Shaw Brothers in the post-war era, martial art costume dramas, compared to dynamic urban dramas that projected foreign-like cultural life, demonstrated richer cultural proximity to Taiwan society. Nevertheless, martial art costume dramas from Hong Kong still presented new pictures to Taiwanese. By the



1980s, Hong Kong popular culture was already dominated by finely crafted dramas accompanied with pop-like theme songs. The fusion of Western and traditional Chinese musical arrangement in television theme songs was actually an innovative attempt, and thus attractive to Taiwan audience. Cho Lau Heung/Chuliu Xiang 楚留香, a 1979 TVB production swarmed Taiwan society, making the poetic yet cavalier-spirit theme song a household melody. The protagonist of the drama and the singer of the song, Adam Cheng since then became a superstar, an all-time “prince charming” to millions of television fans. After the phenomenal success of Cho Lau Heung, Adam Cheng moved his career base from Hong Kong to Taiwan. Adam Cheng later got married to a Taiwanese actress after having divorce with the famous Hong Kong comedian actress Lydia Shum. The fad over Hong Kong-origin martial art costume drama propelled Taiwan television stations to make their own episodes in the 1990s. In 1976, CTV from Hong Kong launched its groundbreaking television adaption of Louis Cha’s swordsmen novel The Legend of The Condor Heroes/Shediao Yingxiong Zhuan 射雕英雄傳 and subsequently the television adaptation of swordsmen-fighting fables became an ever-lasting vogue in Hong Kong television industry. Such television production practices, efficient and rewarding, soon prevailed in Taiwan’s popular cultural industry following the entry of TVB.  As a result, Taiwanese versions of Louis Cha and Gu Long novel adaptation sprouted and bloomed. However, in the 2010s, TVB disposed of its operation in Taiwan which was originally carried on by Liann Yee Group under the business name of TVBS in two tranches—namely, a disposal of 53% shareholding interest, which took place in January 2015, and a disposal of the remaining 47% shareholding interest in January 2016. The only business then left in Taiwan is the holding of certain property assets in Taipei City. Against the backdrop that TVB discharged from its Taiwan business, since 2015, a new overseas key player appeared in the company annual report—Vietnam. In Vietnam, TVB partners with Saigontourist Cable Television Company Limited (SCTV), the country’s largest TV network, to compile a channel for TVB dramas. Since March 2015, TVB drama serials have been delivered to SCTV for same day broadcast, resulting in optimistic growth in both TV ratings and advertising revenue. In addition, in another major Southeast Asian country, Cambodia, TVB has secured fixed broadcast bands on a number of major local terrestrial TV channels. This breakthrough has allowed TVB to tap into the fast-growing advertising market (Tables 5.1 and 5.2; Figs. 5.1 and 5.2).



Table 5.1  Change of TVB overseas market turnover Turn-over of Hong Kong business (HKD 1000)


USA and Canada



2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016

5,70,445 6,71,171 7,03,831 7,43,834 7,43,010 6,54,339 7,34,588 6,27,504 7,52,247 8,34,284 8,33,101 8,32,133 8,67,997 0 0

1,93,678 2,17,557 2,08,667 2,09,149 2,09,013 2,12,721 2,16,094 2,17,727 2,35,280 2,40,274 2,41,869 1,98,244 1,68,015 1,44,885 1,30,845

48,320 53,318 60,510 67,784 71,313 88,442 95,722 98,284 1,14,851 1,28,478 1,28,039 1,04,993 89,972 62,425 55,454

81,744 90,149 78,953 97,080 95,589 1,00,694 91,519 82,614 68,977 67,748 63,132 44,602 30,173 9200 10,050

18,78,652 18,19,702 22,81,105 25,60,672 25,48,729 26,89,295 26,60,971 23,66,476 28,05,695 31,16,792 33,23,798 35,02,966 36,25,004 33,24,864 30,39,285

Source: Collected and summarized by the author with reference to TVB annual reports. Accessed via http://corporate.tvb.com/article/26.html Note: Turnover comprises advertising income net of agency deductions, licensing income, subscription income, as well as income from videotape and disk rentals, sale of animation productions, sale of magazines, programs/commercial production income, merchandising income, management fee income, facility rental income and other service fee income

Global Reach—ATV Not only that TVB plays an eye-catching role in exporting Hong Kong cultural products to overseas market, but also another Hong Kong major television industry player—ATV—also strived to procure its global market share. In the early 1980s, when Chiu took over ATV’s operation and management baton and changed the former brand RTV to ATV, he decided to craft ATV as an Asian television hub instead of a Hong Kong-bounded one. Despite that illegal reception of Hong Kong television signals was already popular in the Pearl River Delta region since the late 1970s, it was not until the early 1990s that Hong Kong television channels could be officially transmitted to Guangdong audience via the local cable (more discussion in the next section). Under Deacon Chiu’s baton, before Hong Kong’s television channels could officially land in PRC, in 1982, ATV took a bold step and televised the Guangdong-Hong Kong Football Cup (Sheng Gang Bei,  省港盃) which took place in Guangzhou. In 1983, an ATV-produced television drama, Legendary Fok/Daxia Huo Yuanjia 大俠霍元甲 (1981), legendary



Table 5.2  Change of TVB overseas market turnover Turn-over of business (HKD 1000)

Mainland China

Malaysia and Singapore

Other countries Vietnam

2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016

86,140 1,04,237 1,04,922 1,17,225 1,71,869 1,83,786 1,77,490 1,83,284 2,05,370 2,63,606 2,80,704 4,01,975 3,83,283 2,70,993 3,50,837

2,67,055 3,26,310 3,37,056 3,37,726 3,31,513 3,65,772 3,99,686 3,78,668 4,60,424 5,23,311 5,32,746 5,60,100 5,55,188 5,48,504 5,27,894

35,828 28,718 41,892 43,120 30,150 30,760 31,234 28,775 31,812 34,372 44,495 41,037 53,536 46,029 47,341

n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 47,825 48,602

Source: Collected and summarized by the author with reference to TVB annual reports. Accessed via http://corporate.tvb.com/article/26.html Note: Turnover comprises advertising income net of agency deductions, licensing income, subscription income, as well as income from videotape and disk rentals, sale of animation productions, sale of magazines, programs/commercial production income, merchandising income, management fee income, facility rental income and other service fee income

4000000 3500000 3000000 2500000 2000000 1500000 1000000 500000 0

TVB business turn-over per year

2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016

Hong Kong Australia Malaysia and Singapore

Taiwan Europe other countries

Fig. 5.1  Change of TVB business annual turnover

USA and Canada mainland China Vietnam



TVB business turn-over per year (overseas) 1000000 900000 800000 700000 600000 500000 400000 300000 200000 100000 0

2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016

Taiwan Europe other countries

USA and Canada mainland China

Australia Malaysia and Singapore

Fig. 5.2  Change of TVB overseas business annual turnover. (Source: Collected and summarized by the author with reference to TVB annual reports. Accessed via http://corporate.tvb.com/article/26.html)

story of a Guangdong Kung Fu hero, was purchased and broadcasted by Guangdong provincial television. Notably, the border-crossing move of Legendary Fok thus represented the very first batch of Hong Kong television dramas that officially came to mainlanders’ eyesight after ten years of Cultural Revolution. Very soon, this drama was broadcasted by CCTV (China Central Television based in Beijing), leading to tremendous applause across the country. In the 2000s, amid its constant restructuring moves with changes of owners and shareholders, ATV, under the hand of mainland Chinese businessmen, largely expanded their advertising business to mainland China. Branch offices of ATV were located in a number of commercial hub cities in China: Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chengdu (ATV 2003). As discussed in the previous chapter, drastic wax and wane had characterized RTV and later ATV during its half-century legendary life in Hong Kong’s cultural history. The frequent change of shareholders, who embraced different management philosophies and ambitions of development, had led ATV to brinks of financial and management crisis from time to time. Since the 1990s, after Chiu’s family left the company, so did his managerial frugality philosophy, ATV had to appeal to all sorts of program resources to fill the air time. Compared to TVB that kept sufficient home production, ATV had to largely purchase television dramas from mainland China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.



Under such circumstances, on the one hand, ATV had been for a long time criticized for falling short of local production. On the other hand, these foreign programs rescued ATV from financial difficulties in terms of saving a huge amount of production fee. What’s more, quite a number of excellent foreign productions, due to ATV’s importation, opened a new world to Hong Kong audience. Foreign television dramas were dubbed in Cantonese for Hong Kong local market. The particular cultural style presented through these television productions, such as the urban life in metropolis Tokyo, the life-and-death romance of Korean lovers as well as the Taiwan-made Republic China love stories, diversified Hong Kong’s television drama landscape. For example, a series of Taiwan romantic television dramas adapted from one of the most popular Taiwanese female novelists, Chiung Yao, were broadcasted on ATV. My Fair Princess/Huanzhu Gege 還珠格格 (1999), like an irresistible cultural tornado, swarmed Taiwan, mainland China and Southeast Asia, and finally became talk of the town in Hong Kong due to the ATV importation. A copycat of Japanese comic, Meteor Garden/Liuxing Huayuan 流星花園 (2001) brought a fresh stream of school romance into Hong Kong’s commercial society. Among the Japanese mania that prevailed Hong Kong’s popular cultural realm in the 1980s and 1990s, ATV also played an important role in terms of importing a large number of Japanese television dramas. Famous Japanese television stars, namely, Ishibashi Honami (鈴木保奈美), Adachi Yumi (安達佑實), Sakai Noriko (酒井法子), Kimura Takuya (木村拓哉) and a lot more, were introduced to Hong Kong people through ATV. Similarly to what Hong Kong television culture ever did to mainland Chinese and Taiwan audiences, romantic, humane and scenery Japanese culture, which came along with Love Whitepaper/Aiqing Baipishu 愛情白 皮書 (1993), Homeless Girl/Meiyou Jia de Nuhai 沒有家的女孩 (1994) and many more, enchanted generations of Hong Kong youths. A cultural fascination over Japan among a large group of Hong Kong people—the effervescent metropolitan lifestyle and pastoral rural heritage—thus vividly came to life through television screens. Noteworthy is that, seeing the successful move taken by ATV by procuring Japanese television dramas, TVB soon copied the strategy and imported the most popular Japanese productions, such as serial dramas that starred super idol Kimura Takuya. If the 1980s and 1990s were the age of Japan’s rise, the 2000s is the Korean epoch. Korean popular cultural wave doubtlessly trumped the 2000s. But, according to Korean culture researcher Chung Lok-wai’s findings, in the early 1990s, ATV already started importing television dramas



from South Korea. ATV even cooperated with the South Korea consulate in Hong Kong to inaugurate Korean broadcasting service in Hong Kong (1.5 hours daily) (Chung April 2nd, 2016). Among the storming of Korean style urban and costume dramas in Hong Kong at the threshold of the millennium, ATV presented to Hong Kong audience Korean drama representatives: Autumn in My Heart/Lanse Shengsi Lian 藍色生死戀 (2000) and Full House/Langman Manwu 浪漫滿屋 (2004). While the former one thrilled audience with heartbreaking fin-de-siècle-like romance, full of life-turning joy and sorrows, the latter one depicted a fairytale-like romantic story that made Rain (the dancing king of Korea) and Song Hyekyo (宋慧喬) among the most popular household names in Hong Kong. Both dramas were groundbreaking types in Hong Kong television culture, introducing extravagantly represented, yet all-time attention-­ grabbing, style of television language. Full House was set in an urban setting featuring the quarrelsome but loving couples, which soon became a novelty exemplar of modern romance. The imperfect love (full of quarrel and fighting scenes) between two imperfect young people enriched the previous monotone love-bird romance featured in Hong Kong soap operas (Table 5.3). Table 5.3  Television dramas imported by ATV Year

Mainland China



South Korea

1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008

– – – 1 4 8 3 4 5 5 6 8 8 15 9 9 15 8

5 – 4 7 10 5 4 3 11 7 4 3 3 6 3 1 – 1

2 – 2 7 9 6 4 2 1 1 4 3 2 – 1 4 1 –

– – – – – – – – – – 1 7 9 1 4 8 10 6

Source: Collected and summarized by the author with reference to various online resources



Intra-Asian Cultural Flow Japanese Cultural Marker in Hong Kong Importation of Japanese TV dramas by ATV excited a sizable group of Hong Kong citizens. What will be elaborated in the chapter of Cantonese popular song is that Hong Kong television culture actually was already under strong Japanese influence since the late 1970s when Japan’s economy took flight out of the shadow from WWII. Also in the film industry, Japanese professionals once greatly contributed to Hong Kong’s film ­productions with unique Japanese techniques and perspectives. Pioneer of the region in terms of economic development, Japanese popular culture (J-pop) also stormed all over the East Asian region, including Hong Kong, forming a regional cultural circle (Iwabuchi 2004; Otmazgin 2014). Besides that Hong Kong television stations purchased the loyalty and showed dubbed Japanese television dramas and cartoons, pirated VCDs/ DVDs of soap operas were easy to find in underground markets in Hong Kong. A media spectacle, the prevalence of Japanese television dramas through legal and illegal channels imbued Hong Kong with a J-pop marker. Along with direct importation (legal or illegal) of Japanese popular cultural products, increasingly, Hong Kong cultural products indigenize and localize Japanese culture (Fung 2007). In quite a few Hong Kong television dramas, embedding of J-pop elements could be easily spotted, especially those that had been highlighted as the symbol of love or signature conversation lines in Japanese TV dramas. More importantly, cultural values projected by Japanese soap operas were as well homologized in Hong Kong episodes: stereotyping gender roles between strong men and soft women; flash marriages; revelation of complex mentality in work place; excessive consumption of lifestyle and romantic relationship. Despite different receptions among audience between Japanese and Hong Kong soap operas, there was a sense of regional cultural proximity that made the intertextual insertion and acculturation of values, episodes and narratives more accessible and acceptable. While Hong Kong’s proximity with mainland China, precisely the Cantonese-speaking region at the southern part, originated from similar sets of linguistic system and religious folk cultural practice, the proximity between Hong Kong and Japan was an everyday life derivative, through mass cultural product consumption. While cultural practice from Guangzhou was regarded as a convention from an “imagined kinship”,



Japanese culture represented a fellowship that Hong Kong people could adore and hand out with. Hence, it was argued that the distance between Hong Kong culture and that from mainland China originated from Hong Kong’s acculturation with Japan than with the western world (Fung 2007, p. 281). While the Chinese government upheld long-lasting anti-Japanese sentiments, Hong Kong soon resumed cultural exchange with Japan in the immediate post-war era. In the Cold War, British colony Hong Kong, as part of the right-camp force, had little obstacles having a cultural exchange with professionals from Japanese cultural industry (e.g. Japanese filmmakers worked in Shaw Brothers). In that time, Japan was under the invisible hand of America. This also well explained in the following decades that, with Japanese economy took flight, Japanese popular cultural products ranged from comics and fashions which represented “vogue of superiority” further played crucial roles in people’s daily consumption. Therefore, the prolonged daily encounters between Hong Kong and Japanese culture, which were by all means rooted in historical and geo-political contingency, had crafted partial Hong Kong identity. At the historical juncture of 1997, when Hong Kong citizens were straddled in the escalating PRC nationalistic discourse and their own national identity ambiguity, the “Japanese-ness” embedded in Hong Kong quietly helped in the boundary drawing. The long-established Japanese cultural clues and markers in Hong Kong everyday life (e.g. fashion brands, department stores) and in mass media cultural consumption were conceived of as a temporary replacement for sustaining the Hong Kong consumerist values, which, to a certain extent, constituted part of Hong Kong identity. Hong Kong media and culture scholar Anthony Fung further argued (2007), “The strong continual presence of Japanese value may be instrumentally useful for the Hong Kong people to shelter themselves from the overwhelming national force from China—a force which possesses a very different political and economic ideology” (p. 283). Sonic Scape in Southeast Asia Focusing on the sonic presence of Hong Kong TV, namely soundtracks and theme songs, in Southeast Asian popular cultural landscape, Singaporean scholar KK Liew (2015) argued that theme songs and soundtracks were exceptionally critical in the process of layering television culture. While images on television screens projected to Southeast Asian



viewers a distance imagination of East Asian advancement and superior civilization, the televisual soundscapes through daily resounding theme songs and soundtracks amplified the emotional flow of episodic narrative and profoundly anchored audiences’ memories for several decades. The vernacularization of culture in post-war broadcast and television industry—the dominance of Cantonese language culture—had been popularly received not only among local audience, but also in Southeast Asia. Instead of projecting a postcolonial “national television culture” that emphasized a “one nation” ethnic-cultural pride as Singapore did, Hong Kong’s broadcast television culture on the other hand showed a more pragmatist style under the colonial government laissez-faire rule. Commercialization and market competitiveness were the principles beneath. Hong Kong, a leading economy across the Asian region, doubtlessly represented an exemplar of advanced “modernization”. The highly commercialized television drama series, accompanied by a wide spectrum of theme songs and soundtracks (from heroic symphony to urban rocks), disseminated the cosmopolitan imaginations of Hong Kong simultaneously as home to urban yuppies living in the charming metropolis as well as shelter to those who sought larger room of opportunities. The liberal-­ capitalist urban dynamic, with Confucius value embedded, television culture in Hong Kong in the post-war era projected greater political-social space for people to define themselves. To the huge Sinophone populations living in the Southeast Asian region, Hong Kong television dramas also suggested a cultural proximity. While the proximity between Hong Kong and Japanese mass culture was foregrounded on their equally superior economic advancement and the historical contingency, the adhesiveness between Hong Kong and Southeast Asian people was language and family-value based. In addition to the fact that Hong Kong presented an exemplar of developed metropolis imagination, both the city and its popular culture unveiled to hundreds of thousands early migrants and their descendants an allegory of a “developed and modernized family relative”. As early as the immediate post-war period, Hong Kong films were already largely exported to Southeast Asia, especially regions of Malaya and British colony Singapore. In this prolonged process, a kinship-like cross-strait visual umbilical cord was given birth through a series of South Asian-contexted Hong Kong films and the extended Southeast Asian distribution network Hong Kong film companies had built. After several decades, Hong Kong television dramas, through pirate channels and official networks (e.g. TVB Malaysian



branch), further enriched and renewed the long-established visual umbilical cord by presenting a dazzling Hong Kong.

Window to/of China From Illegal Antenna to Guangdong Cable Through illegal and later legal channels, passively and later actively, Hong Kong television products since the 1980s have dominated Guangdong people’s television-watching life. After the ten-year Cultural Revolution, which was marked an end in 1976, in the early 1980s, people living in Guangdong province, mostly near the east coastal line, became the first group of PRC residents who could finally view the world at a daily basis. TVB, starting business in 1967, rapidly developed into the market giant in the 1970s along with another two competitors, ATV and CTV. However, in mainland China, 1967–1976 was characterized by class struggle, zealous Maoism worship, total abandoning of Confucius and religious classics and nation-wide Maoist propaganda march. Following the death of two founding fathers of the PRC, Premier Zhou Enlai and Chairman Mao Zedong, the so-called proletariat revolution ended up in the second half of 1976. Not only that economy was suspended during the decade, but also people’s cultural life was saturated with Maoist and communist propaganda. In the wake of Deng Xiaoping’s open-door policy announced in 1978, people living at the south tip of the resurrected red China, adjacent to the then colonies of British and Portuguese, respectively, Hong Kong and Macao, started to utilize different means to reach the information from outside world. For centuries, people in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao share a similar set of repertoires in terms of religious and folk practice, language use and the way that communities are organized. By the end of the 1970s and the early 1980s, a majority of Hong Kong television programs were local productions in local language—Cantonese. These local elements as well as the reflection of Hong Kong’s phantasmagoric urban life transmitted on screen, to the vast Guangdong population, turned out projecting largely cultural proximity, while fulfilling the long-existed void of multi-­ culture. Very soon, a Hong Kong television-viewing community was silently built up. Porously spreading across from villages to cities in Peral River Delta region were visual-sonic scape that featured fictional while aspirational worlds of Wuxia, fables of love birds, conflicts of new and old money, urban professionals and a lot more.



To reach the fruitful information source, Guangdong people made full use of a “magic wand”. Antenna, which could receive television signals, once prevailed in Guangdong province. Besides television sets, antenna became an important “household” in families who were desperate for information from the outside world. In sound weather condition, as long as signals were not blocked by high-risings, antennas could effectively receive television signals across the state border, such as from Hong Kong: TVB Jade, TVB Pearl, ATV Home and ATV World. By the end of the 1970s, Hong Kong’s television industry already became much matured than in the commencement era and had produced a large amount of well-­ received television programs, especially television dramas. Therefore, even though local governments took a strong grip on the private setting of antennas, Guangdong people never ceased to install new sets of receivers. Facing constant control from the government, people had participated in “cat chase mice” game. Removal of an old antenna would lead to erection of a new one. As a result, control over antenna became an endless, while unsolvable, problem to the government. Nothing could stop people’s zealous aspiration for non-dogmatic and innovative entertainment and information. Amid the antenna problem, which at the same time revealed the massive demand of Hong Kong television programs among the Guangdong people, new measures were made in the end of 1980s to institutionalize this huge cultural need. In Foshan, a town east to Guangzhou (the capital city of Guangdong province), for the first time Hong Kong television signal was integrated into the local cable wires. In 1994, Guangdong Cable Television was officially established as the only official “agency” transmitting Hong Kong television signals to millions of households. By this means, television programs from the outside world could be under better control, especially the censorship over “improper” and “illegal” contents under PRC law and regulation. In addition, this new television station was literally a zero-cost business, which relied on ready-to-air Hong Kong television programs to procure advertising income. By subscribing to Guangdong Cable TV, on the one hand, people could “legally” enjoy Hong Kong television programs. On the other hand, the television signals became under control of Guangdong Cable which, as the host station, could insert their own commercials and conduct censorship over politically “sensitive” contents. Hence, while being offered more stable transmission of information without worries of bad weather, blockage of signals or forceful removal of antenna device,



people in Guangzhou could no longer enjoy the previous original Hong Kong television programs. Foreign Broadcasters Landing in PRC In the 2000s, after PRC joined the WTO in 2001 and more relaxation was vested on imported foreign products, ATV and TVB formally landed in mainland China in 2002 and 2004, respectively. Among this trend were other foreign broadcasters such as the Phoenix TV (Hong Kong registered company), STAR (under US News Corporation), China Entertainment (Huayu, 華娛, a  Hong Kong registered company) and MTV (under US Viacom). Since then, Guangdong province became the first and only region in mainland China that hosted foreign broadcast and television service providers (Zhang 2011). In 2003, CEPA was signed between mainland China and Hong Kong. Under this scheme, a large variety of Hong Kong products could enter the mainland market as domestic goods instead of foreign trade merchandise (e.g. Hong Kong films are regarded as domestic film which could be free from China’s quota grip on foreign films). In this context, STAR television made its headquarters in Hong Kong, largely benefiting from the CEPA when they set their advertising company in Shanghai. Since then, more foreign television stations and media corporations made mainland China (especially in coastal big cities) one of their Asian business branches (Ou 2006). Visual-Sonic Prevalence of Hong Kong Television in Guangdong From the age when mainland people received Hong Kong television signals through setting up illegal antenna to a new age that mainland China welcomed the thriving of foreign broadcasters, Hong Kong television programs had played an indispensable role not only in ordinary citizens’ cultural life enjoyment, but also in the whole mainland broadcast industrial progression. Noteworthy is that, throughout the 1980s and early 2000s, across the Guangdong province, foreign television programs, mostly television products from TVB and ATV, dominated the market share. Hong Kong television programs dominated the market with considerable advantages in terms of their more matured technology and the multi-faceted revelation of a modern lifestyle that mainland Chinese people had long aspired (e.g.



television dramas of Hong Kong professionals). Compared to the rest of mainland China, Guangdong province had made an interesting exception. At the threshold of China’s 1978 open-door policy and economic reformation, hundreds of thousands of Guangdong commoners were already exposed to a large diversity of visual-audio enjoyment transmitted from across the border (Tables 5.4 and 5.5). Until today, when PRC’s television business reaches a full blossom in terms of program variety and stardom showbiz, Hong Kong television culture still plays a crucial role in the southern part of China. Table 5.4  Viewership of foreign  (including Hong Kong) and local television programs in Guangdong Foreign Television Programs 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008

Local Television Programs

72.5% 68.8% 64.3% 56.8% 56.5% 50.6% 43% 34.6% 32.88% 32.17%

27.5% 31.2% 35.7% 43.2% 43.5% 49.4% 57% 65.4% 67.12% 67.83%

Source: p. 48, Zhang ZN 張中南, 2011, Ebbs and flows of viewership of foreign television programs in Guangdong province 境外電視在廣東收視市場的盛衰及啟示, Theorization and Perspective 學理審視, 2011 No.01, pp. 46–49

Table 5.5  Viewership of Hong Kong television programs in Guangdong (in comparison with CCTV channels)

1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 (first half)



CCTV channels

42.4% 44.6% 39.9% 38.7% 35.2% 32.3% 30.1%

29.3% 22.8% 22.4% 16.3% 15.2% 9.3% 6.9%

4.4% 6.3% 6.2% 6.4% 6.5% 8.1% 7.8%

Source: pp. 31–34, Ou NZ 區念中, 2006, Globalization: A TV Game (電視傳播與邊界跨越: 境外及香港 電視落地對廣東電視傳媒生態環境的影響及對策), Guangzhou, China: Yangcheng Evening News Press



Following the golden age when Hong Kong television programs conquered Guangdong’s viewership market without much obstacle, Guangdong television industry as well as the national television business grew rapidly in the late 1990s and significantly expanded in the 2000s, especially along with China’s entering the WTO. For example, evidence shows, in 2005, for the first time, Guangdong local television programs triumphed overseas programs in gaining the larger share of viewership in Guangdong. As the pioneer of Chinese television industry, Guangdong television also took rapid pace and developed into a multi-level corporation equipped with provincial and municipal levels of television channels. At the national level, China’s only one national television station which was officially inaugurated in 1978, CCTV had extended into 22 free channels by the year 2012. While CCTV channels had dominated viewership in other provinces, they could only gain a slight market share in Guangdong. Yuan argued that (2008a, b), the capital city in Guangdong province, Guangzhou has exhibited an atypical media ecology in this vast territory of mainland China. Despite the significant expansion of television choices, Guangdong viewers show a polarized viewership pattern that features a high preference over local television. In the context that overseas, national and local television industries grow exponentially, viewers in Guangzhou have demonstrated a visible trend of audience concentration on overseas and local channels, while fondness of national channels remained stagnated. Though media exposure time to national television channels increased at certain points, the viewership loyalty to these programs was never encouraging. On the contrary, Hong Kong channels still appeal to a large size of loyal audiences who are willing to spend a significant proportion of time (30%) exclusively viewing the programs. As other big cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, play their roles as political and economic centers, respectively, Guangzhou for a long time has been regarded as the birth place of various rebellions (e.g. Sun Yat-­ sen’s republican revolution) and the first and only experimental field for social and economic reformation after PRC inaugurated the open-door policy in 1978, namely, one step ahead in China (Vogel 1989). These exceptional characteristics of the province as well as people’s active demand of border-crossing information, dating back to the “antenna era”, have crafted a distinctive viewership pattern in this south tip of mainland which faces the ocean (Table 5.6).



Table 5.6  Viewership of television dramas of top 5 popular channels in 2004

TVB Jade Guangzhou 34 Guangdong Pearl ATV Home Southern Film and Video

No. of Television Dramas released

Average Viewership

Highest Viewership of the Television Dramas

22 19 20 29 22

21.4% 5.4% 2.8% 2.6% 2.1%

26.9% 10.4% 4.1% 7.3% 4.6%

Source: p. 41, Ou NZ 區念中, 2006, Globalization: A TV Game (電視傳播與邊界跨越: 境外及香港電視 落地對廣東電視傳媒生態環境的影響及對策), Guangzhou, China: Yangcheng Evening News Press

Hong Kong Television as Mid-Way House in China Mid-way house is a place in-between. From a mid-way house called Hong Kong television drama, mainland Chinese people at the threshold of economic reformation on the one hand experienced a fascinating visual-sonic adventure. On the other hand, they found a shelter where people could dissolve the anxiety derived from China’s drastic social changes. Also from there, people learn how to be modern. Following Guangdong as the pioneer importing Hong Kong television culture, other provinces in mainland China soon were equally attracted by this foreign culture which was regarded as more superior in terms of ­content diversity and filming technological advancement. Hong Kong popular culture swiftly north-headed crossed the Yangtze River and the Yellow River. Following Legendary Fok/Daxia Huoyuanjia 大俠霍元甲 (1981), The Bund/Shanghai Tan 上海灘 (1980), Love and Passion/Wanshui Qianshan Zongshi Qing 萬水千山總是情 (1982) and so on visually and sonically filled ordinary home space. Hong Kong television stars, such as Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau and Liza Wong (汪明荃), became household names. Television drama theme songs were frequently heard in karaoke bars, grocery stores and school parties. Even though a huge number of the mainland Chinese population could not speak or even understand Cantonese, they enjoyed imitating the language and sang along with their favorite Hong Kong stars. Interestingly, The Bund, an epic story of romance, revenge and loyalty set against the backdrop of Shanghai in republican epoch, was extremely popular in Shanghai. It was said that, along the bund (a long-extended pier along the Huangpu River), the Cantonese television theme song



resounded day after day. Regardless of linguistic barrier, Shanghai people were amazed by the magnificently composed and lyrically penned theme song, also titled The Bund, which was performed by Hong Kong diva Frances Yip (葉麗儀). The Bund was doubtlessly a novel creation to both Hong Kong and mainland Chinese popular culture—what accompanied Frances Yip’s splendid alto singing was Chinese musical instrument performance arranged in Western orchestration. Now a Hong Kong classic, the song was one of the legendary musical works by Hong Kong talents Joseph Koo and James Wong. The swordsmen heroism, dilemmas from brotherhood and nationalistic loyalty, melancholy romance ensnared in family revenge, urban professionals trapped in dramatic career turns, and a lot more cliché yet arresting repertoires, unfolded in series of Hong Kong television dramas. The sophistication of story plots, stardom presentation, music accompaniment and the dramatic revelation of the temporal-spatial context on television screens largely presented a Hong Kong cultural industry that was far more superior to that of China in reformation. These cultural resources later became remarkable cultural reminiscence to generations living through the 1980s and 1990s (Zeng 2003). Classic repertoires inspired from Hong Kong soap operas were appropriated and repeated by mainland television producers. Termed by Zeng (2003) as a mid-way house among the social chaos in the 1990s mainland China or coined by Ma (2012) as the trans-border desire, Hong Kong television products bridged people’s fantasy over modernity and concretized the way of how to learn to be modern. In 2017, the legend of Kung Fu master Fok, the first television character that came to mainland Chinese screens, was still appropriated by CCTV. Producers penned a drama series of the young age of master Fok. Mainland Television Industry Inspired by Hong Kong Rather than a top-down process that the foreign television products are introduced by governments or broadcast companies, in Guangdong, it was the bottom-up power that “forced” the government to respond to the people’s need. The far-reaching influence from Hong Kong television industry has vested in Guangdong province as early as the late 1970s. The Hong Kong-style streamline mode of production, film technology, organizational management and the necessity of a competitive environment had thrust the development of the whole industry in Guangdong.



According to Wang Yijun (2013), there are five dimensions that Guangdong television industry at its inchoation phase was profoundly inspired and influenced by Hong Kong television industry. In terms of means of production, Hong Kong television companies showcased to mainland Chinese the efficient and effective standardization of production. Dated back to the 1950s, Run Run Shaw, the owner of the Shaw Brothers film studio, had demonstrated how to streamline film production which assembled the Hollywood-style grand studio system. Such effective mass production mode was transplanted to TVB later on. Collective creation, division of labor and streamline of process, to name a few, had characterized Hong Kong style of cultural production as well as greatly stimulated the industry in Guangdong. In the late 1980s, Guangdong Television Station became the first in the nation to take a step ahead, bringing forth a television drama series titled Miss Public Relations/Gongguan Xiaojie 公關小姐 (1989) by utilizing the streamline mode of production. This imitation actually even had started earlier. In the late 1970s, a group of Guangdong television professionals were already attracted by the successful TVB variety show “EYT”, presumably through antenna transmission. They even went to designated hotels to secretly view and learn from “EYT”. These hotels, scarce in number at the dawn of post-Cultural Revolution, were especially reserved for foreign visitors and thus Hong Kong television programs were available. In the early 1980s, a Guangdong local variety show Colorful Night/ Wanzi Qianhong 萬紫千紅 was staged, showing a Guangdong version of EYT. Vox populi—a revelation of the most local everyday life had always been the jewel of crown in Hong Kong’s popular culture. Speaking the people’s voice instead of those from the ruling class had attracted viewership not only in Hong Kong, but also in the larger Pearl River Delta area. The Colorful Night, along with subsequent soap opera series which were produced in the most local language—Cantonese—and revealed the trivial but joyful everyday life of the local mass, soon proved to be the key to success in Guangdong’s television industry. Compared to Cultural Revolution repertoires that highlighted esthetic unity of collectivism, local life-centered contents and situational comics about grassroot stories immediately touched the nerves of millions of Guangdong audience. Moreover, the popularity of Hong Kong’s Kung Fu costume dramas inspired mainland television professions to make their own. Hong Kong martial art coaches, choreographic directors of martial art films and professional television staffs were invited to mainland China. As a result, series



of martial art dramas adapted from Louis Cha novels were made by mainland Chinese television stations. Different from the previous mode of direct importation of Hong Kong television products, television professionals in mainland China directly learned from Hong Kong counterparts to further improve and illuminate local production quality. Though in the late 1990s mainland Chinese television industry already rapidly advanced, mainland Chinese audience’s interest in Hong Kong cultural products never diminished. In 1999, a spectacular was seen in mainland China during the lunar New Year. An imported Hong Kong costume drama The Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils/Tianlong Babu 天龍八部 (1997) was simultaneously shown by more than ten satellite television stations.

Hong Kong-China Encounters on Screen Changing Images of Mainlanders Extensive discussion in the previous chapter was elaborated regarding a specific phenomenon in the 1980s—the identity categorization shown in Hong Kong television dramas. The controversial portrays of mainland Chinese reflected Hong Kong people’s condemnation or mixed feelings on the new arrivals from mainland China in the context that Hong Kong was more economically and socially advanced than mainland China. The vivid sketches of characters, such as “Ah Chian” and “Crab Ting”, further substantialized people’s negative perception. Television images became cultural indicators. As Sino-British negotiation on the future of Hong Kong was undergone in the 1980s and the Joint Declaration was signed in 1984, subtle changes in the Hong Kong-China relation occurred, with changing landscape in popular culture entailing. Lo (2006) and Qin (2013) offered concrete clues about this transition. Increasingly, mainland Chinese were represented in a more positive way compared to the “Ah Chian”, which was a typical mainlander image back in the 1970s. The newly presented mainland Chinese roles carried various positive attributions. They were on-screen intellectuals, college graduates, professionals and artists. A fashion television drama named A Road and A Will/Xianggangren Zai Guangzhou 香港人在廣州 (1997) presented a typical case. It was broadcasted a month before the Hong Kong handover day. In the drama series, the leading role, a Hong Kong man named Ah Tit went to Guangzhou to start up his business, where he encountered a young



­ ainland female named Ho Fung. Ho Fung was a charming lady who had m a decent job in Guangzhou’s banking system. At the beginning, cultural and business conflicts filled every encountering experience between Ah Tit and Ho Fung. However, through everyday interaction, gone was the cultural chasm between the hero and heroine while a cross-border romance slowly brewed. Though controversial depictions of mainland Chinese roles were still noticeable, the vulgar yet kind-hearted rural mainlanders turned out beneficial to Ah Tit’s business and the catalyst to Ah Tit’s changing perceptions on both mainland society and mainland Chinese. Table 5.7 shows a strong contrast between “Ah Chian” and mainland Chinese roles in television dramas in the late-1980s and 1990s. Professional Table 5.7  Roles of mainland Chinese in Hong Kong television dramas Year

TVB Series

1981 The Four Seasons 四季情 1985 Police Cadet 新 紮師兄續集 1989 The Justice Of Life 他來自江湖 1990 Where I Belong 笑傲在明天 1997 A Road and A Will 香港人在廣 州 1998 Healing Hands 妙手仁心 1999 At the Threshold of An Era 創世紀 2000 Love without Border 緣份無邊 界 2002 A Herbalist Affair 情牽百子 櫃 2013 Inbound Troubles 老表你 好嘢 Summarized by the author

Role in Series


Actor/ Actress

Tsang Wai (female) Cheung King-shing (male) Yu Jiao (female) Yau Heung-­ tung (male)

Illegal new immigrant, hardworking employee Legal new immigrant, doctor

Liza Wong

Legal new immigrant, designer

Kelly Niu Tien Francis Ng Chun Yu

Chai Ho-fung (female)

Legal new immigrant, longing for a better life in foreign country Mainland Chinese professional

Chow Yun-fat

Maggie Cheung

Yim Dong (female) Tin Ning (female) Jin Lan (female)

Legal new immigrant, doctor

Jojo Cho

Legal new immigrant

Ada Choi Siu Fun Maggie Cheung

Keung Sum-yuet (female) Choi Sum (male)

Chinese medial herbalist

Melissa Ng Mei Heng

Mainlander, a bit vulgar, dream to be a singer

Wong Cho-lam

Mainland Chinese businesswoman



occupations were assigned to the roles who lived and worked at a social class equal to those owned by Hong Kong locals. While “Ah Chian” was an uneducated man who could only find jobs in the manufacturing industry while from time to time showed reluctance to fulfill his daily job, characters in the years to come revealed a more cheerful picture, implying a closer relation between Hong Kong and mainland China especially at the threshold of the handover. In reality, as a commercial television station, TVB had pulled strings between the public taste and their own commercial interest, among which the latter one was closely associated with the large political-economic context. The change of Hong Kong’s social condition led to TVB’s continuous strategic adjustments on its media products. In this process, images of PRC and mainland Chinese reflect TVB’s position in all these political-­ social vicissitudes. Flows of Cultural Exchange Not only had televised images of mainland Chinese experienced radical changes, but also the landscape of television drama repertoires. Even before the 1997 handover, PRC-produced television dramas were already purchased by and shown on Hong Kong’s free television stations. In 1994, Three Kingdoms/Sanguo Yanyi 三國演義 (1994) was shown on ATV at the juncture that the television station was undergoing financial crisis but had to purchase programs from external sources in order to cut production budgets. The historical year of 1997 marked a new era for the society and for the cultural ecology. Exchange of cultural resources was intensified. After 1997, mainland television products, mainly costume dramas featuring late imperial epoch and republican China, started to take a larger market share in Hong Kong. First by ATV then TVB, costume dramas, such as Yong Zheng Dynasty/Yongzheng Wangchao 雍正王朝 (1999), Gate to a Nobel Clan/Da Zhai Men 大宅門 (2001) and Tour of Kangxi/Kangxi Weifu Sifang Ji 康熙微服私訪記 (2000), were continuously imported to Hong Kong. Among these productions, many were ambitious, finely crafted dramas that unfolded epochal histories through wanes and wax of noble families. In Hong Kong’s market, these dramas, usually dubbed in Cantonese, were in many cases well received and even topped in the viewership billboard.



After Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, series of Hong Kong signature family melodramas were imported by CCTV, such as At the Threshold of An Era/Chuang Shiji 創世紀 (1999) and Secret Of The Heart/ Tiandi Haoqing 天地豪情 (1998). Though heavy accounts were vested on local families and the business world in Hong Kong, these two dramas were phenomenally attractive to mainland audience with compelling dynamics in wealthy families, conflicts behind brotherhood, romance situated in affluent urban setting and ebbs and flows in Hong Kong’s stormy international business world. All these features, even at the threshold of the millennium when mainland Chinese popular cultural industry had largely developed, continued to project a flamboyant modern and advanced world to mainlanders. Interestingly, TVB Qing dynastic costume drama War And Beauty/ Jinzhi Yunie 金枝欲孽 (2004) was not only popular in Hong Kong’s domestic market, but also fascinated a considerable size of mainland audience population. First imported by Hunan Satellite TV in 2004, this historical costume drama, featuring women politics in royal family, showed great success. Soon, the drama was pursued by television stations from other Chinese provinces. Although set in the backdrop of Qing Dynasty, this drama featuring conflicts between concubines was regarded as an ­analogy of fierce office politics in the modern world. Again, the acute sensitivity of modernity of Hong Kong cultural products gained wide applause (Zhang 2008). A turning point occurred in 2000 when the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (now transformed into State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of The People’s Republic of China, SAPPRFT) announced a notice that forbids imported television products from airing in prime time. It was until this new measurement that the long-lasting prevalence of Hong Kong television products in mainland Chinese market was calmed down. That said, another door was open after a few years and new forms of border-crossing cultural exchange were achieved through deepening resource and staff conversion. What will be elaborated in the next part is that the CEPA, signed between Hong Kong and mainland China, gave larger room for cultural exchange. For example, restriction on the number of Hong Kong actors in mainland television dramas was lifted. Restriction on the number of episodes for co-produced dramas was unleashed as well.



Hong Kong-China Co-production Changes of Regional Landscape: An Alarming Backdrop In the millenniums, Hong Kong’s video entertainment industry, similar to the film industry, encountered a number of challenges and had serious recession: the drastic booming of television products from adjacent regions (e.g. South Korea and Taiwan), PRC’s rapidly rising television industry and the arrival of CEPA that drained professional resources from Hong Kong’s cultural industry. Hong Kong’s tiny geographical size could never sustain a vibrant enough cultural industry that relies on domestic market only to expand and upgrade. For a long time, Hong Kong’s television programs were prevalent in overseas markets such as Taiwan, Southeast Asian countries, North America and mainland China. Before massive social reformation took place in Taiwan, South Korea and mainland China roughly around the early and mid-1990s, Hong Kong, along with Japan, was by all means a popular cultural leader in the East Asian region. However, the jaw-droppingly rising development of K-pop in the 2000s had brought Hong Kong’s long-standing leading position into tremble. South Korea actively exported its cultural products to foreign countries and soon took dazzling market share. While entertainment products exported from South Korea grossed US$29 million in 2002, the number continued to expand and grew by more than 30% toward 2010 (Yang 2012). The streaming of South Korean popular cultural products on the internet soon drew Hong Kong people’s attention, who were largely fascinated by the versatile stars and large variety of TV dramas (Lee 2015) In the mainland Chinese market, while in the 1980s Hong Kong television industry showcased to cultural workers and mass audience a world of advancement in terms of content creation, management mode and technological operation—a teacher and light-tower to mainland Chinese—in the millenniums, the rapidly rushing mainland Chinese cultural industry soon turned over the former situation. According to empirical studies by Leung et al. (2017), entertainment managerial staffs expressed grave worries by pinpointing the cultural distance Hong Kong television dramas exhibited in mainland market, while mainland Chinese media organizations were mature enough to develop their own programs that showed greater proximity to the wide mainland market. As a result, the previous enchantment possessed by Hong Kong popular cultural products in mainland Chinese market was outperformed. In addition, mainland Chinese



improving production quality brought by enormous showbiz investment attracted not only domestic audience, but also a sizable group of fans from Hong Kong. The drainage of viewership of Hong Kong local television programs further wrinkled the popular cultural competence. Commercially Driven Nationalism Against this alerting backdrop, both the contents and structure of Hong Kong television encountered what Anthony Fung (2014) called a commercially driven nationalism through co-production. Actually, the changing situation in mainland China also facilitated this trend: an increasing withdrawal of state financial backing for state-owned studios, the quickening pace of marketization. All these factors had forced China’s media industry appeal to co-production with Hong Kong, which was regarded as a more experienced player in TV business, in order to further sharpen mainland media organizations’ market competitiveness. Similar to the situation in the film industry, nowadays, Hong Kong’s television business and its development are lamented from time to time by people that the golden age has gone. In the heyday, Hong Kong’s television programs, as discussed, rampantly swept across the border and ­dominated the viewer market in South China. According to TVB experienced television professionals interviewed by Chow and Ma (2008), in the 1970s–1980s, in the fast-growing industry, sufficient room of creativity and management was widely open to young talents who were allowed to carry out experimental works. In the 1990s, however, facing diverse expectations from the audience, while the company had always strived to take stringent budget control, TVB changed to a more conservative production mode. Standardization of television production was employed on the one hand to lower cost of production. On the other hand, less room was granted to innovative content curation. Such changes, along with gradually transforming Hong Kong-China relations, introduced new modes of production to Hong Kong’s television industry. While concepts such as hybridization was never new to Hong Kong’s popular cultural product, in the case of Hong Kong’s changing media-­ scape since the late 1990s, hybridization was reflected in norms, values, ideologies, institutions and organizational culture (Chan and Fung 2011). Co-production, in Chan and Fung (2011)’s discussion, referred to “collaboration between organizations of different cultures in various domains, including management, investment, scriptwriting, shooting, artists and talent composition, organization of the filming crew, ­



­ost-­ p production, marketing efforts and strategies” (p.80). It already became a common form for Hong Kong companies to achieve larger market share in the mainland. Hong Kong television dramas had hybridized with the mainland Chinese culture as a result of market-driven co-productions. Generally speaking, co-production was revealed at three levels. In the first type, television products were mainly Chinese productions as China took charge of most of the decision making. But these products involved a cast of Hong Kong artists who were rendered more market-appealing than mainland stars. In the second type, Hong Kong was responsible for the main production process and the Chinese partner would facilitate the Hong Kong side to get relevant filming permission from Chinese authorities and to promote the product in mainland. These television dramas were usually, at least partially, filmed in mainland China, with part of the contents designed to serve a mainland favor. The last type was the most genuine co-production, with each side participating in production works and sharing the profits on an equal basis, such as The Drive of Life/Suiyue Fengyun 歲月風雲 (2007) and Glorious Return/Rong Gui 榮歸 (2007), which are discussed below (Chan and Fung, 2011). Since 2003 when Hong Kong and mainland China signed the CEPA, which lifted a number of obstacles that once circumvented Hong Kong from massively entering the mainland market, Hong Kong’s television industry has been equally benefited as a film industry. Under the scheme, more and more co-production works were inaugurated in the television industry. Since 2006, Hong Kong-China co-production television dramas were categorized as quasi-domestic productions that were subject to the same requirements applicable to China domestic dramas, such as the number of episodes and the broadcasting time slot. Co-produced works then were broadcasted in many mainland local free television channels—a situation that had demonstrated a strong contrast to when television programs could only be illegally received or through paid cable services. Representative cases that had interwoven hybridized cultural and political factors under the changing Hong Kong-China relation and CEPA are discussed below. Narrating “Family”: Nation-Making in Co-production In 2007, marking the ten-year anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover, TVB and CCTV joined hands and produced a 60-episode drama The



Drive of Life. Apparently, this drama expressed strong political implications through its contents: a story about the joint effort of three brothers, after living their lives separately in mainland China and in Hong Kong for decades, in attempting to manufacture and promote the first made-inChina vehicle to the global market. Reunion and Hong Kong-China joint achievement knitted the episodes, a theme that obviously resonated in the mainstream discourse from the Chinese central government. At production level, The Drive of Life was a joint venture between two gigantic television stations. For example, the casting was constituted by artists from both sides. Financially, the production cost was divided equally between the two stations. As regards division of labor, TVB mainly handled the production part and the mainland counterparts were responsible for sketching the historical background for the whole story. By doing this, the contents of the drama would take little risk to challenge Beijing’s discourse by trespassing any political redline. To TVB, gaining the high-­ profile endorsement from China’s leading media organization guaranteed the consequent promotion and screening of this television drama in Hong Kong and in mainland China. As a high-acclaimed congratulatory present to the tenth anniversary of the Hong Kong sovereignty transition, The Drive of Life was unveiled in mainland and Hong Kong markets with a finely orchestrated rhythm to showcase the cornerstone status of the co-­ production drama: on CCTV, the drama was inaugurated one day before the anniversary day, and the first episode landed in Hong Kong two weeks following the anniversary day. The drama was well received in both markets as expected. Besides The Drive of Life, TVB’s rival, ATV also presented in high profile its handover tenth anniversary celebrative television drama called Glorious Return. As another co-production work, this drama featured another story with the Hong Kong-China reunion theme. Though s­ haring different backgrounds as two brothers lived in Hong Kong and Beijing separately, at the crucial moment, they sacrificed their individual interests and saved someone’s life without rewards. The self-sacrificing spirit and the eventual reunion of the two brothers, again, symbolized the ­mainstream tone from the Chinese official discourse: sacrifice of individual interest for the sake of national/collective glory. Compared to the previous list of television dramas that included roles with mainland Chinese background, these two celebrative works projected a more apparent and more comprehensive degree of hybridization, structurally and culturally.



Being a state-less city, Hong Kong, after over a century’s colonial rule, learned to belong to a nation after 1997 (Matthews et al. 2008). Once a shelter to thousands of refugees, it was not until the 1970s that Hong Kong people started to incumbent a consenting Hong Kong identity. That said, this identity was characterized by a cultural Chinese identification, while a political identification with the city of Hong Kong (Lau 1997). As a result, family-centered or individualistic themes became a hallmark to Hong Kong’s television products, while in mainland China, due to the revolutionary tradition, nationalism and patriotism in many cases triumphed over other factors. Thus, from time to time people had little difficulty telling Hong Kong dramas from mainland productions. However, under the backdrop of the tenth anniversary of Hong Kong handover, a triumph of Chinese nationalism over Western colonialism in Beijing’s discourse, television dramas carrying this specific ceremonial purpose should demonstrate a model-pattern in terms of resolving family-­ nation tensions. Despite the misunderstanding and conflicts that occurred among family members, who had been separated for decades, reunion was the final destiny. The reunion of family members shall intertwine with the success of the nation, such as the victory of China’s national automobile manufacturing business in The Drive of Life. In Glorious Return, the struggle between individual and collective interests was mentioned in leading actors’ daily conversations. Chinese nationalism, in the post-1997 era, had gradually penetrated the daily lives of Hong Kong people and became everyday public discourse (Fung 2014). Rescaling the Local and National Under the context of CEPA and a closer industrial connection between media organizations from Hong Kong and mainland China, Chow and Ma (2008) identified intriguing processes of de-territorialization of production and re-territorialization of national imaginations in television drama production by tracing the career path of two experienced Hong Kong TVB television professionals and documenting the transformation of production practice of TVB. In 2004, a TVB drama called The Dance of Passion/Huowu Huangsha 火舞黃沙 (2006) was under production in Yinchuan, the northwestern part of mainland China. Different from The Drive of Life, this drama, though a collaboration between TVB and mainland Chinese television station, showed less obvious hints of co-production as the casting team was



mainly constituted of Hong Kong artists. But it was clear that, only with endorsement from the Chinese side that the Hong Kong production crew could gain the permission to shoot in mainland China. At a remote village where this drama was shot, a two-story hotel was turned into a small television city. Here, a mainland Chinese production team was employed by TVB on a project-based basis. This team of local staffs were responsible for coordinating on-site shooting, managing extras, arranging on-site daily life and performing an intermediary role between the local networks and the Hong Kong crew. The shooting site is called Western District Movie TV City, a site full of jaw-droppingly stunning natural scenes in a desert. Diverse and spectacular natural scenes in mainland China were greatly appealing to Hong Kong production people and audience. Taking the advantages from CEPA, Hong Kong production teams could broaden their shooting location choices by exploring a large variety of scenic landscapes in mainland China. At the same time, the availability of Chinese mobile project-based teams (with much lower labor cost compared to Hong Kong) and the cheap hardware production cost further benefited Hong Kong from conducting co-production. The high-priced loyalty purchase of The Dance of Passion by Hunan Satellite TV and CCTV proved to be another great success of Hong Kong television production. After all, The Dance of Passion, which was shot in Shanxi province, catered to mainland Chinese taste to a larger extent. At first glance, The Dance of Passion was a 100% TVB production with a full cast of Hong Kong performers, while collaboration from the mainland Chinese side was only subtly hinted—a rescaling of production. The rescaling of production had led to rescaling of national imaginations in Hong Kong’s media culture. In the colonial age, China was presented as a remote “motherland” to Hong Kong locals with depictions of ancient history and grand geographical landscape. To many Hong Kong locals, everyday life in this tiny British colony mattered most to their identity formation. Along with the sovereignty transition, more frequent interaction between mainland Chinese and Hong Kong people was found, entailing increasing exposure of mainland Chinese elements shown on mass media, especially after the implementation of the CEPA.  The subtly exerted escalation of visual exposure to Chinese elements among Hong Kong locals led to a process termed by Chow and Ma (2008) “re-nationalization”. In the same line of what Chan and Fung (2011) called structural and cultural hybridization, the case illustrated above showed structural and



cultural consequences that entailed the deepening integration of Hong Kong’s media organizations with those from mainland China. “(By) relocating TVB’s production routines in trans-border production networks, trans-border TV producers combine the efficiency of the TVB production format and the flexibility and mobility of trans-border support to enhance creativity and production possibilities… the once denationalized Hong Kong TV drama has been injected with vivid representations of national histories and geographies” (Chow and Ma 2008, p. 215).

Concluding Remarks The special political-social role of Hong Kong gave birth to a distinctive broadcasting system in the territory since the pre-WWII era. Entrenched in the turbulent age when multiple political forces surrounded the colony, the broadcasting system in Hong Kong played a special role, which was beyond the domestic everyday need. As a political and cultural frontier, broadcasting stations in Hong Kong once played a vital role as ideological and value defense frontiers against different antagonists in different ­contexts. It was under the particular historical contingency that Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry was “worlding” to Japanese occupied zones, Australia and overseas Sinophone population to convey important messages. After the war, Hong Kong broadcast returned to normal, serving the mass population. Similar to the demographic and cultural composition of Hong Kong society, broadcasting service in the early age was multi-­ linguistic. While under the British colonial rule, the Hong Kong government employed a pragmatic philosophy of governance, so did the public broadcasting service. Instead of indoctrinating English as the only official language in broadcasting as the Japanese colonizer did in Taiwan, Hong Kong’s broadcasting service kept a large proportion of Cantonese and other Sinophone language programs, to better inform the huge number of residents from different parts of mainland China. Throughout the prolonged post-war era, Hong Kong’s broadcasting industry rapidly expanded its business and cultural impact from domestic market to overseas, especially the East Asian cultural circle. As one of the earliest British colonies that developed its own broadcasting industry, Hong Kong demonstrated more advanced television culture than adjacent regions (e.g. Taiwan and mainland China) in terms of technologies and content creation. Therefore, after decades of political turmoil, when main-



land China and Taiwan once again opened their doors to foreign culture, Hong Kong media products rapidly stormed the market. The channels for receiving Hong Kong televised signals varied. Noteworthy is that, in the case of PRC, it was people’s excessive thirst for alternative culture (vs. revolutionary ideological products) that prompted the local government to officially introduce Hong Kong television. This bottom-up movement played a crucial role in driving the border-crossing movement of popular cultural products at the threshold of mainland China’s door-opening policy. It was also due to the excessive dominance of Hong Kong media products in South China that mainland Chinese media industry, especially media professionals in Guangdong province, got inspired and strived to advance their national media business. Through the kaleidoscope of Hong Kong television (mainly TVB and ATV), people living in Guangdong province, a doorstep to Hong Kong, were very soon accustomed to cultural values, capitalism, consumerism, stock market business, international trading and professionalism through Hong Kong television dramas. The audio and sonic scape shown from Hong Kong television dramas fulfilled people’s fantasies over modernity and provided substantial examples for learning to be modern. Despite that Hong Kong television culture had vested significant impact on mainland China, business profits generated in mainland China from broadcasting television dramas were mostly opaque. Equally noteworthy is the overseas reach conducted by two major television providers, TVB and ATV, which actively expanded their overseas business. While ATV had always been under the grave shadow of TVB’s dazzling leading role in exploring vast markets in Taiwan, Southeast Asia and Euro-American markets, ATV made itself an East Asian cultural broker by exposing Japanese and Korean cultural products in Hong Kong. TVB promoted a Hong Kong visual-sonic television culture to the global community, especially the wide Sinophone community. ATV also painted a heavy stroke of J-pop hallmark in Hong Kong’s media-scape. The cultural proximity in terms of economic development between Hong Kong and Japanese culture interestingly crafted a unique Hong Kong character that differentiated this former British colony cum Asian economic miracle land from the PRC. That said, the relation between Hong Kong and mainland China was more complicated than a simple boundary drawing. While mainland media professionals were stimulated by those from Hong Kong, Hong Kong also imported mainland Chinese productions to fill their air time. At the junc-



ture of 1997 handover, subtle changes complicated the media discourse and production. For a long period of time, Hong Kong television culture was on the one hand featuring distinctive capitalist urban life. On the other hand, clues of profound Japanese cultural impact were integrated into Hong Kong media products as a marker of East Asian modernity. However, increasingly, discourse of Chinese patriotism and other mainland-­based cultural values (e.g. family-nation tensions), which used to be alienated to Hong Kong people, were imbued in Hong Kong television dramas, becoming part of the daily public discourse. Different formats of co-production were encouraged. Today, a certain number of popular television dramas shown on TVB are co-productions, starring television stars from mainland China and Hong Kong, and thus a re-­ nationalization process becomes salient. Once “Ah Chian” on the screen, mainland Chinese had undergone dynamic encounters with Hong Kong television culture. The transition of sovereignty smoothed the process that mainland Chinese television professionals and performers equally collaborate with Hong Kong people. Once the central stage of television culture across the Sinophone community and a mirror of East Asian modernity, today Hong Kong media talents seek fortunes in mainland China and become part of the national culture as Hong Kong popular stars are starred in various mainland Chinese entertainment programs. The long-existing border-crossing adventure of Hong Kong media culture is undergoing a different yet alarming path when PRC seems to have become the one and only destination and re-nationalization is the consequence. Discussion Questions

1 American culture is perceived as vesting cultural imperialism to the rest of the world through blockbuster cultural products. Back in the 1980s, Hong Kong television dramas dominated mainland Chinese market. How to distinguish these two phenomena? 2 In the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese television products prevailed in Asia. In the 2000s, Korean wave replaced the Japanese popular culture. However, Hong Kong television culture as well vests critical influence in the region. Compared to Japanese and Korean popular culture, what is the role played by Hong Kong cultural products?



3 It has been an irreversible trend that mainland Chinese television culture has integrated with Hong Kong television products. Scholars argue that increasing national discourse has been found in Hong Kong’s daily media discourse. However, new local television episodes produced by media organizations other than TVB continue to thrive (e.g. ViuTV and HKTV). What is your view regarding the balance between national and local culture in Hong Kong in the near future? 4 Instead of direct importation of Hong Kong television products, mainland Chinese media organizations have increasingly collaborated with Hong Kong media talents. What is the role played by Hong Kong television industry in mainland Chinese media industry?

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Making Cantopop

Chapter Overview Cantopop implies to a unique type of songs that are in Western pop genre, while presented in the lingua franca of Hong Kong—Cantonese. Not only did singers interpret the songs in Cantonese, but also the lyrics are penned according to the phonetic logic of Cantonese to neatly fit the melodic scale and rhythm. Using Cantopop instead of Hong Kong pop or Chinese pop, to a large extent, implies the significance of the language and the cultural implications underneath. Hong Kong film (gang chan pian 港產 片), which had already become an outstanding genre in the global cinema landscape, is the one but only geographical-based film genre that is named after a city. Similar but different, Cantopop, a specific music genre derived from Hong Kong, on the one hand, embodies the cultural significance of this city. On the other hand, beyond the nation-state boundary, the formation and later wide dissemination of Cantopop signifies the gigantic power of language—the global reach of Cantonese which has been the far-reaching result of over a century’s huge-scale migration of Cantonese population. Cantopop therefore stretches far beyond Hong Kong’s local market but has generated profound influence in overseas markets. In the following chapter, a historical review of Cantopop is unfolded. From the first appearance of “Cantonese popular song” on publication materials and the inception of Cantonese popular songs in primitive forms, Cantopop has experienced a significant transformation process which has © The Author(s) 2020 K. J. Wang, Hong Kong Popular Culture, Hong Kong Studies Reader Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8817-0_6




been interwoven with development of the film industry, broadcast technology and the larger temporal-spatial vicissitudes. The mid-1970s was widely recognized as the birth of Cantopop as television became a household entertainment, and cultural workers started to employ this unique music genre to compose a large variety of television drama theme songs. The theme songs that filled every household every night amplified the prevalence of Cantopop. Admittedly, technological advancement played a vital role at this crucial point. But one could never neglect the foundations laid by the predecessors in the previous decades, including the countless trials and innovations taken by a large group of musicians and singers from a wide range of fields: traditional Cantonese opera (notably, Cantonese opera songs and tunes were exactly “popular culture” back in that age); the collaboration between Cantonese music and Cantonese films and the blossoming of rock ‘n’ roll youth culture in the 1960s, giving birth to a group of popular music professionals who later became major players in the Cantopop industry. Stories about Cantopop in the 1980s and 1990s are too familiar to Hong Kong citizens and even the whole East Asian region. Besides the big names of showbiz superstars, this chapter leads readers to grasp a fuller picture of the whole industry by looking into different sectors: production, market and the stardom making (superstar manufacturing system), which made Cantopop conquer the hearts of thousands of fans. Following the heyday, Cantopop industry met a downturn. “Cantopop is dead” became a cliché. Far from telling a simply tragic story, multiple facets will be further examined in the latter part of the chapter.

Defining Cantopop Cantopop is a product of Hong Kong popular culture. However, by no means does Cantopop make the only one popular song genre in Hong Kong. As a city full of hybridity due to Hong Kong’s specific geo-political status in different historical junctures, Hong Kong has witnessed influx and outflows of cultural workers from all around the world, who ultimately make this city a hub of cultural resources from multiple directions. Hence, Cantopop had and still has strong rivals Hong Kong’s music landscape, and the leading role of Cantopop is by all means a product of historical, social and technological transformation. That said, there still remains a debate in the academia that what is the origin of Cantopop. Admittedly, songs sung in Cantonese are seldom



equivalent to Cantopop. However, songs sung in Cantonese, back in the pre-war era, definitely had provided the soil for the sprouting of Cantopop. According to music historian in Hong Kong, Yu Siu-wah, “popular song” is so arbitrarily defined that any art form could be regarded as “popular” at a certain period of time or among a certain group of population. Thus, Cantopop (yue yu liu xing qu 粵語流行曲) could be any song written or sung in Cantonese and once gained wide popularity. To him, today, what we regard as old-fashion songs (e.g. Cantonese opera and Cantonese folk tunes) were actually extensively popular several decades ago. By the same token, Hong Kong music researcher, Wong Chi-wah agreed that Cantonese opera and folk song artists in the early days were pioneers of Cantopop. One reason, he believes, is that this group of Cantonese-speaking artists tried hard to follow the pace of the modernized world by adding elements inspired from Western musical world and from everyday life in song writing. In the late 1970s, when Cantopop slowly revealed its uniqueness and significance in the popular cultural industry, it was widely understood that mingling elements from foreign cultures and from people’s daily life stories made Cantopop stand out from traditional folk songs. Another reason, which is also the most significant one, is that in the early 1950s, “Cantonese popular song” was for the first time clearly indicated as a term and a promotional strategy. What will be discussed in more detail later is that, even though the style of the songs was still adherent to traditional Cantonese folk tune, to a certain extent, it opened a new page in a sense that bringing forth Cantonese songs to compete with the dominant fashions, which, in the 1950s, were Mandarin pop songs, originated from Shanghai. So, what is popular song and Cantopop? Unlike the history of film which could be defined according to the development of the technology itself. Music and songs—exist along with the millions years of human development—are formulated in a more abstract and vaguer mode that almost all songs are popular to a particular group of people in a particular period of time. Similar to the definition of popular culture, the first criteria, from a musicological perspective, is that popular songs are “of the people” and widely accepted by a major part of the population. More importantly, from a more sociological and cultural lens, “popular” carries its commercial nature, gaining popularity and making profits from the audience. Popular music is massively produced, consumed and reproduced. Though still under controversy, popular music is



a struggle between authentic artistic creativity and commercial music-­ making (Shuker 2017).1 Given the vagueness and arbitrary nature of the concept of popular music, in terms of Cantopop, I try to narrow down the scope. Cantopop starts from the period when songs in Western pop genre sung in Cantonese become widely circulated, commercialized and obtain a dominant role in the society. When was this period in Hong Kong? J. C. Lee found that the first use of the word Cantopop was by Billboard magazine in 1974. Hans Ebert, a music critique used this term to describe what he had found in the city with west-east cultural hybridity (Lee 1992; McIntyre et  al. 2002; Chu 2007; Chu and Leung 2013). This story of “J.C.  Lee tracing Cantopop” was accepted by different Hong Kong local scholars as well. However, in Yu Siu-wah and Helen Yang’s historical mapping of Cantonese popular music, it is pointed out that little record could be found from the Billboard magazine related to the use of Cantopop (Yu and Yang 2013, p. 2). Leaving the controversies aside, Cantopop as a music genre has prevailed in Hong Kong and a number of overseas markets for decades. Since the late 1970s, songs sung in Cantonese that featured the characteristics as below were already extensively employed in different major popular cultural sectors: film songs, television theme songs and among young singers. Cantopop very soon was developed into a lucrative business. In Wong Chi-chung’s definition (2007, p. 22), Cantopop is underpinned by modernization (different from conventional Cantonese opera tunes), urbanization (reflect the voices of the mass population), westernization (comply with western pop genre), trendy and corporatization (institutionalized production and consumption). Though many Cantopop songs were presented in an “AABA” melodic and lyric structure, the genres of Cantopop vary: pop, rock, dance and so on (Wong 2014, pp. 6–7).2 Based on the discussions above, Cantopop in these chapters refers to popular songs in Cantonese since the late 1970s. Though scholars like Yu Siu-wah and Wong Chi-wah questioned the starting point of Cantopop and argued that Cantonese popular songs already existed long before as Cantonese opera and folk tunes, in the  See Chapter “Popular Music”.  In Wong Chi-wah’s opinion, usually ABA and AABA structures definitely belong to “popular song”. But a song in other formats could also be recognized as popular song when it is promoted in the name of “popular” or gains vast recognition in the society. 1 2



f­ollowing discussion, for the sake of clarity, I will call popular songs sung in Cantonese before the 1970s the “pioneer Cantonese popular songs”.

Early Stage of Cantonese Popular Songs Formation and Promotion of Cantonese Popular Song It is believed that 1952 marks the birth of “Cantonese popular song” (yue yu shi dai qu 粵語時代曲) (Wong 2014, p. 62). A then prominent record company called Wo Shing (和聲) for the first time used this term in their promotional texts to highlight the novel genre and creative editing of a number of Cantonese songs. Notably, here, the “Cantonese popular song” was by no means equivalent to Cantopop. On the one hand, “popular song” in this case was an abstractly defined promotional slogan, new trials of musical arrangements taken by a group of musicians from Cantonese-­ speaking regions. Therefore, “popular song” under the Wo Shing label was more a gimmick than a definite genre. On the other hand, in retrospect, this innovative gesture taken by the record company had laid significant founding stones for the later musical development in Hong Kong. Wong Chi-wah even pushed the discussion by pointing out that, in the 1930s, hints of Cantonese popular songs could be identified. Although Cantonese traditional music, in forms of Cantonese opera music, Cantonese operatic songs and folk tunes,3 were the popular entertainment forms in Cantonese-speaking regions such as Guangdong Province, Hong Kong, Macao and even the large Cantonese-speaking community in Shanghai, new styles of musical performance emerged in several entertainment venues, such as the “Guangzhou sing-song twins”(duo-girl performing sing-song troupe 廣州女子歌舞團) performing in an amusement park located in the Sincere Department Store in Guangzhou. What 3  Derived from and integrated with traditional Cantonese balladry including Naamyam 南 音(southern tune), Lungjau 龍舟 (dragon boat songs), Mukyu 木魚 (wooden fish; named after a percussion instrument made of wood and shaped like a fish), Ban’ngaan 板眼 (“main and subsidiary beat” songs) and Jyuau (粵謳, a narrative script which is adapted into music), music and songs were played and sung to accompany Cantonese opera performance. It is generally called Cantonese opera song (yue qu 粵曲). Regarding Cantonese opera music performance, it usually contains main parts: the aria (chang qiang 唱腔), the instrumentation (Cantonese traditional instruments such as a series of percurssions) and beats (also called pai he 拍和 which is consistent with the chang qiang). Description could be found via Music In Cantonese Opera (Yueju) http://www.ied.edu.hk/ccaproject/yueju/eng/music.php.



marks the novelty of their performance were the Western-style dressing, dancing choreography, strong and fast-paced rhythms and the combination of Western-Cantonese instruments in music playing. These fresh performance genres gained exceptional popularity that even New Moon gramophone and record company (新月留聲機唱片公司), a then eminent company, invited them to record discs, promoting this style of music performance as “new music”. Following the sing-song troupe recordings, New Moon continuously explored more variety of new styles for disc production (Wong 2014, pp.  16–24).4 More discussion will follow later. Westernize the Tradition Noteworthy is that, since the early twentieth century, Cantonese opera performers, some of whom were also singers and film actors as discussed in Chaps. 2 and 3, admired Western culture, especially those from Hollywood. They adapted what they had learned from the Hollywood works to Cantonese local performances. As mentioned earlier, Sit Kok-sin appeared on stage in Western suites. And music instrumentation was already experimenting a combination of Western and Asian elements, such as using violin to play the main melody of Cantonese operatic or film music and adapting Western film songs into Cantonese version (in traditional tunes) (Wong 2000, p. 41). Tam Lan-hing, a then well-known traditional Cantonese operatic soprano and Cantonese film star, staged in Macao in the 1940s while presenting the whole repertoire accompanied by jazz drum set and piano (Wong 2014, p. 26). The westernization and hybridization taken by Cantonese artists, both in opera and in film industries, had subsequently transformed the forms in which they delivered music. Such novelty trial was marked as a cornerstone in the development of popular culture in Hong Kong during the early twenty-first century. A crucial factor that further drove the popularity of Cantonese music in pre-war Hong Kong was music bands and the development of broadcasting in Hong Kong. In Guangdong and Hong Kong, the adjacent regions with intimate cultural tie, a large number of music bands were formed among amateur musicians who could play instruments or simply loved singing. From Wong Chi-wah’s research, surprisingly, many band mem4  Wong indicated that, in some Cantonese new songs, English words and idioms were already incorporated in the lyrics to exhibit the trendiness and creativity. See pp. 16–24.



bers actually later became well-known Cantonese music composers, film stars or cross-medium stars in Hong Kong’s popular cultural industry, namely Wong Yuet-sang (王粵生), Cheng Kwan-min, Fong Yim-fun (芳 艷芬) and Pak Suet-sin (Wong 2000, pp. 38–39). Similar to today’s rock bands, music bands were trendsetters during that time. Getting inspiration from music genres of various origins, music bands—amateur or professional—were keen to put traditional Cantonese folk tunes or newly composed songs in innovative/experimental instrument arrangement. Similar to the Guangzhou sing-song troupe, fusion of Western and Cantonese musical elements was applied to performances in order to show the vagueness. Therefore, music bands, due to their non-­stop creativity and readiness of presentation, played a major part in radio broadcasting. During that time, Hong Kong’s broadcasting programs were mainly constituted of news bulletin and musical programs. Through airwaves, melodic and narrative Cantonese music and songs were transmitted to every corner of the society—a process that facilitated Cantonese song to become a fad. When Film Meets Popular Song The development and evolution of Cantonese music, from traditional tunes to popular forms, could seldom be standalone from films. Since the birth of sound film, composing film music and film songs became a fashionable practice. Some film songs were exceptionally popular and even stood out from the film itself (Wong 2000, pp. 2–7). With little doubt, these film songs were the popular songs in that age—Cantonese popular songs. As discussed in Chaps. 2 and 3, the appearance of Cantonese opera actors in films became an up-and-coming trend in the 1930s. Cantonese opera and folk tune singing was so popular that Sit kok-sin, Ma Szetsang, Siu Yin-fei (小燕飛) and many other prominent Cantonese opera singers in that age, even Cheung Wood-yau and Pak Yin the famous melodramatic film stars, must sing a number of tunes when acting in films. The singing part, more often than not covering one whole song or even more, made an indispensable part in the films. As stated in Chap. 3, the integration of two most popular entertainment forms in what we nowadays call “Cantonese opera sing-song film”: Cantonese opera singing (sometimes filled with Western elements) and films on the silver screen made film watching become increasingly popular among the mass



population. But in a more precise way, while filmmaking back then was still a technological novelty, the long-existing craze of Cantonese opera singing facilitated the global reach of Hong Kong Cantonese films. My Love Comes Too Late/Lang Gui Wan 郎歸晚, produced by the Grand View film company and released in 1947, was regarded as the first Cantonese film released after the WWII. This film got huge success not only locally but also in overseas market such as Southeast Asia. It was understood that the theme song had played an indispensable role in achieving the filmic remarkable success. The song’s melody, which carried the same title, My Love Comes Too Late/Lang Gui Wan 郎歸晚, was adapted from a traditional Cantonese folk tune Flowing Water Floating Cloud/Liu Shui Xing Yun 流水行雲 and lyrics were newly composed. It was due to the wide popularity of this melody which was familiar to generations of Cantonese-speaking people before the war time that the film adapted the same name of the song got huge success (Wong 2000, pp.  51–51). To overseas Cantonese-speaking population, the folk tune-­ turned theme song presented a more profound yet subtle cultural proximity than the filmic language. In the following years, Cantonese film songs became an important genre among the emerging Cantonese popular song arena. Inclusion of film song and “quasi film song” (songs never appeared in films but titled as film song) were coming of age. New style of songs began to be embedded in films. In the post-war era, youth sing-song films further set the trend among young audience at that time by opening a vista of fully westernized lifestyle and, of course, music taste, full of modernity and vibrancy (Yung 2003). A legendary sing-song film and Cantonese popular song marked a milestone in the 1950s. Cantonese film Belle in Penang/Bin Cheng Yan 檳城 艷 (1954) featured one of the most sought-after actresses at that time, Fong Yim-fun, who also led the theme song of this black-and-white film. Fong, a Cantonese opera actress famous in global Cantonese-speaking communities, projected a fresh image in performing the song that bore the same title as the film. Different from My Love Comes Too Late that was adapted from an existing Cantonese folk tune, Belle in Penang was inserted with a touch of exoticism through a few notes that resembled (imagined) Southeast Asian indigenous folk music. Embracing the AABA structure, accompanied by Western instruments and performed in Fong’s sweet and natural voice, the song was launched a month before the film and soon got vast popularity among the local and overseas Cantonese-speaking audi-



ence. From Wong Chi-wah’s findings, in the new year variety air-show in 1954, Fong Yim-fun and her Belle in Penang song even was arranged at the first place of performance (prior to other Cantonese opera performance conducted also by famous performers), which indicated Hong Kong’s popular culture industry could no longer underestimate the role of the new style of Cantonese music (Wong 2000, p. 70, 2016). It is not difficult to tell that the cases of My Love Comes Too Late and Belle in Penang suggested the fact that Southeast Asian regions made a wide promising market to Hong Kong-origin Cantonese popular songs, which, though, were more often than not regarded as inferior to Mandarin and English pops. While My Love Comes Too Late projected a sense of cultural proximity through the adaptation of an old folk melody, Belle in Penang unveiled a hint of exoticism to Hong Kong audience while at the same time appealed to Southeast Asian communities with their local elements. What will be discussed more in the next chapter is the fact that as Hong Kong was home to many gramophone and record companies, many of these products actually targeted the overseas market. Popular film songs dating back to the 1950s and 1960s actually have played a crucial role in Hong Kong’s popular music industry. The catchy melodies and lyrics that repeated in an AABA structure made these film songs easy to be picked up by ordinary people. The higher chance that these songs got prevailing among the mass society would further promote the fame of the films. For example, Cantonese film Madame Butterfly/ Hudie Furen 蝴蝶夫人 (1948) produced by Grand View brought forth a number of film songs, among which “Sing and Dance/Zaige Zaiwu 載歌 載舞” became an interesting case that its melody was carried down by generations and filled with different styles of lyrics. For instance, the king of Cantonese popular song in the 1960s, Cheng Kwan-min, once used this tune to sing his famous grassroot-targeted farce tune Sigh of gambler/ Du zai zi tan 賭仔自嘆 in 1958—“伶淋六、長衫六, 高腳七, 一隻大頭 六” (signs on different chips of a Hong Kong local poker). This song became a folk tune known to generations of Cantonese-speaking population. Even in the 1990s, the melody was further appropriated for film songs, though in a playful way instead of a complete song. King of Hong Kong comedy, Stephen Chiau chanted the melody of Sing and Dance by embedding in the “latest” lyrics in a Chiau-style “Mou Lei Tau”: “barbeque chicken wings, my favorite (燒雞翼 我鍾意食)” in his signature Cantonese film Flirting Scholar/Tangbohu Dian Qiuxiang 唐伯虎點秋香 (1993) (Wong 2009, pp. 67–68, p. 72).



Age of Originality Thanks to the blossoming of music band development since the 1930s, original composition of non-operatic Cantonese songs (though still embracing the mode and style of traditional music to certain extents) started to thrive, in the name of “minor song” (xiao qu 小曲). However, derived from improvisation while scarce in melodic, narrative and instrumental complexities, minor songs were disregarded by those from the orthodox Cantonese opera. In spite of the inferior status of these early-­ stage Cantonese popular songs, minor songs featuring creativity and originality prepped the soil for the later development in the music industry. According to Wong Chi-wah’s findings, the first batch of all-Cantonese popular song recordings was released in August 1952 by the Hong Kong local Wo Shing recording label. During this time, one shellac disc of 78-­ rpm (round per minute) ran three minutes per disc, meaning that only 1–2 songs were recorded per disc. It was a trial run for Wo Shing to produce “Cantonese popular song” recordings at the time when the major business was still devoted to Cantonese opera song recording. One reason for this trial is that Wo Shing spotted the potential market of new forms of Cantonese songs, which already gained a considerable market share in Malaya (Wong 2000, pp.  60–62). According to the discography, until 1960, Wo Shing company released over 30 pieces of Cantonese popular songs that were originally composed, covering topics such as romance, life enjoyment and so on. This finding significantly countered a commonly acknowledged statement that, only until 1974 that the first original Cantonese popular song was brought forth—television drama theme song The Fatal Irony/Tixiao Yinyuan 啼笑因緣. This suggests that creativity, originality and hybridity had been embedded in Cantonese music practice, and these characteristics were already demonstrated since the inception of Cantonese popular song. The “Inferior” Cantonese Popular Songs The border crossing of Cantonese popular music in Southeast Asia turned out to propel larger scale of Cantonese popular song production in Hong Kong, simply because of the potential commercial benefits from this emerging industry. However, commented by James Wong, the “Godfather” of Cantopop, the popular Cantonese songs in the 1950s were mainly targeting the Southeast Asian market, where a huge Cantonese-speaking



population resided. Most of these listeners were cheap laborers transported from South China to Southeast Asia or decedents of them.5 In other words, the Cantonese songs, though quite popular in theme, were regarded as vulgar and even profane in taste (e.g. gambling, sexually insinuating) and were despised by the mainstream society.6 However, as discussed in previous sections, among Cantonese popular songs in the post-war era, actually, quite a number of them featured serious themes such as romance and life sentiments. And a lot of original songs were brought up by early Cantonese musical bands and record companies. That being said, Cantonese popular songs had always been situated in an inferior position to the high-class Mandarin and English pops enjoyed. In addition to the accusation about the contents of Cantonese popular songs, a commonly used form was under criticism as well: a large number of cover songs. Yet the situation was far more fascinating. Sigh of gambler/Du zai zi tan 賭仔自嘆 and Teddy Boy in the Gutter/ Feige die luo kengqu 飛哥跌落坑渠, among which the latter was a well-­ received film song of a comedy Cantonese film Two fools in hell/Liangsha you diyu 兩傻遊地獄 (1958) were two extremely popular works. Though featuring topics related to gambling and street lads, these two popular songs represented a fusion of Western and Cantonese culture, which was a result of musicians’ innovation. As mentioned earlier, king of Cantonese song—Cheng Kwan-min’s vaudeville-like Sigh of gambler was adapted from a 1947 film song Sing and Dance. Though filled with terms from grassroot poker game, this song had generated enormous cultural impact that had been passed down by generations. The melody and Cheng’s gambling-theme lyrics were still household to Hong Kong society. The Teddy Boy song was actually adapted from  the 1955 Academy Award winning  English film song Three Coins in the Fountain. Hong 5  In an interview conducted by Chan Sau-yan, a Hong Kong folk culture ethnologist, with Chow Chong, one of the most productive lyricists in the 1950s and 1960s, it was said that the early Cantonese popular songs were mainly targeting the taste of miners in Singapore. See “Early Cantonese popular song 早期粵語流行曲”, from Hong Kong Memory, access via http://www.hkmemory.org/jameswong/text/index.php?p=home&catId=194&phot oNo=0. 6  See newspaper clips, column by James Wong, Nov 24, 2004. For several decades, Cantonese songs were discriminated 廣東歌受歧視的數十年, from Hong Kong Memory http://www.hkmemory.org/jameswong/text/index.php?p=home&catId=187&phot oNo=0.



Kong’s musicians rewrote the English version into quotidian Cantonese to vividly exhibit social reality, jocular, sarcastic yet socially profound. In terms of music production, the songs were produced by prominent record labels and were arranged by professional musicians. But compared to English and Mandarin songs, this genre of innovative Cantonese popular songs, which were in-between traditional Cantonese opera style and imitation of Western music, could seldom obtain a legitimate status in the mainstream music industry in post-war Hong Kong. Notably, due to the popularity of Cantonese popular songs in Southeast Asian market, the song production was not only confined in Hong Kong but also in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore. Even the king of early Cantonese popular song, Cheng Kwan-min from Hong Kong first developed his singing career in Southeast Asia (Wong 2014, pp. 71–74). In the late 1960s, singers from Southeast Asia came to Hong Kong, hoping for a better career development. The arrival of this group of singers further enriched the scene, while they hardly changed the entrenched illegitimate status of Cantonese popular songs. Cheng Kam Cheong (鄭錦昌) and Sheungkun Lau Wan (上官流雲) were two notable singers coming from Southeast Asia to Hong Kong. In July 1969, Cheng got a chance to sing three songs during TVB night show. He sang one Cantonese song among the three and the song was widely well received. From then on, Cheng got more chances to stage his hilarious Cantonese songs. Interestingly, similar to a large group of Cantonese opera predecessors who absorbed inspirations from Western countries, Cheng and Sheungkun were also enormously influenced by Beatles. Sheungkun adapted two English songs and turned them into a down-to-­earth-style Cantonese lyrics: English songs Can’t Buy Me Love and I Saw Her Standing There were adapted to Cantonese versions of Walk Faster Folk/Xing Kuai Di La 行快的啦 and All I Think is Her/Yixin Xiang Yuren 一心想玉人. Remaining in the rock style, the up-scaling beat was accompanied by playful Cantonese lyrics, such as “Ah Jane already married to someone” (阿珍已經嫁咗人), which soon became catchphrases for grassroot people to lament at the loss of romance, helplessly self-mocking yet hoping for a better one to come along (Wong 2000, pp. 70–71; Yu and Yang 2013, p. 7). Cheng recorded some popular Cantonese songs as well, such as  a popular folk tune Bell sound of Zen Temple/Chanyuan Zhongsheng 禪院鐘聲, which became a household song even until the 1990s.



Despite the fact that none of the abovementioned songs were under-­ quality production, while, in fact, they showcased plenty of innovations and were exceptionally popular in the society, a number of conspicuous features made Cantonese popular songs in that age under-despised by the mainstream music industry: the blunt depiction of everyday life in lyrics, use of oral instead of written language, the occasional insertion of Cantonese idioms and street slangs, and the seemingly farce-like jocular presentation. Cantonese popular songs hence were condescended not only by those working in Mandarin music but also by cultural workers in the Cantonese opera cultural circle. While Shanghai-modern Mandarin popular songs hinted sensual and poetic expressions, Cantonese popular songs were hardly categorized as “art”, but street amusement. One example was that prominent Cantonese opera artists such as Sun Ma Szetsang (新馬師曾) refused to record Cantonese popular songs even though he sang the same song Teddy Boy in the Gutter in the film (Wong 2000, p. 80). From a mass communication perspective, the inferior status of Cantonese popular songs in the post-war Hong Kong was related to the demographic composition and broadcast media development. At the end of the 1950s and entering the 1960s, the Cold War brought to Hong Kong profound cultural influence from the United States. English songs and films were accessible in the market. When English education was no longer restricted in the elite community, listening to Western songs and Western films became a fashion among certain groups of audience. In addition to English songs, Shanghai-style Mandarin songs that came along with the huge influx of refugees from mainland China, especially from Shanghai, became another vogue in Hong Kong society. Though Mandarin culture was never new to Hong Kong, the post-war migration wave had extended the Mandarin cultural influence. Seeking shelter in Hong Kong was a large group of Shanghai cultural and business elites who introduced the Mandarin vogue to the Cantonese-speaking city—reminisce of modern Shanghai. As listening to Mandarin songs was associated with a type of elite culture, the Shanghai-style Mandarin songs (aka Shidai Qu 時代曲, meaning song of the time) became a way to accumulate or showcase cultural capital among Hong Kong locals. In addition, the launching of commercial radio, Rediffusion in 1949 further widened the diffusion of Mandarin and English popular songs. At the beginning, Rediffusion mainly served a small group of social elites, who were mostly English-­ speaking and Mandarin-speaking people, due to the expensive registration



and equipment fee. Under such circumstances, the role of Cantonese popular songs was subordinate to Western and Mandarin culture for a long period of time (Wong 2003). The superior status of English and Mandarin popular music had further vested influence on the larger popular cultural industry in Hong Kong. Sing Tao Evening Newspaper held singing contests for amateur singers since 1960. However, Cantonese popular songs were never recognized as a formal contest section.

The Vibrant 1960s Entering the 1960s, Cantonese popular music had its milestone development due to the advancement of radio technology and the visit of British band—the Beatles. The Beatles Hong Kong concert bombarded the tiny city with energetic rock ‘n’ roll and a strong note of rebellion post-war youth sub-culture, which was reflected through styling and the way they had played music. A more far-reaching influence of Beatles was the stimulation of Hong Kong’s own rock band culture, which later turned out as an incubator of Hong Kong’s Cantopop prosperous future. The next chapter discusses more about Beatles and band culture. The socio-political context in the 1960s was different from the previous decades that the border between Hong Kong and mainland China became more restricted, gradually stabilizing the demographic composition in Hong Kong. Though illegal and legal migration from mainland China and refugees from Vietnam were still constant, a generation of baby boomers, born and grown up in Hong Kong without frequent border-crossing experience as their previous generation, made the foundation of the growing Hong Kong identity. As for Hong Kong, the British colony and port city, it continued to absorb cultural resources from multiple directions. The hybrid sonic-scape, consisting of Mandarin songs from Shanghai and Taiwan, Western songs (mostly in English) and the hybridity of traditional and innovatively composed Cantonese songs was a signature of Hong Kong that later became valuable nutrition to the new generation of musicians (Cheng 2002). Radio Sounds That Filled the Air The Commercial Radio started operation in 1959. Its high-profile Cantonese-centered culture and the arrival of handy transistor radio cre-



ated a broad horizon to further the prevalence of Cantonese popular music. James Wong, a famous name equivalent to Hong Kong popular culture, once commented, the Commercial Radio and transistor radio had marked a cornerstone of Cantopop, turning it part of ordinary people’s everyday life (Wong 2003, p. 69). Without much spatial barrier was the sound transmitted through air. Before the pervasiveness of radio broadcasting, vinyl disc players owned by herbal tea shops transmitted melodic romance and sonic interpretation of emperor adventures to tea drinkers and passersby. As Cantonese operatic tunes played on gramophone-filled streets in Shanghai in the pre-war era, vinyl discs of Shanghai-style Mandarin songs softened Hong Kong people’s hearts. In the radio epoch, radio—amplifier sets replaced vinyl disc players and became secret weapon of herbal tea shops to attract customers, while far-reaching cultural impact was given birth simultaneously. The broadcast dramas, music programs and news reports, before the age of transistor radio, reached the mass population through the radios in herbal tea shops. A collective memory of many Hong Kong locals who lived through the 1950s and 1960s could never be separated from herbal tea shops, which served as a place offering cheap beverage, a spot for short gathering and a “Hong Kong style café/salon” for information and cultural exchange. The massive arrival of transistor radio at pocket size was another driving force that propelled the process of “privatizing” music. As discussed in Chap. 4, Hong Kong in the 1960s became the world’s transistor radio-­ assembling hub. In addition to exporting huge amounts of transistor radios to North America and Europe, the locally manufactured transistor radio became the latest fashion gadget to the mass population.7 Needless to spend the installation fee and subscription fee as in the early days when people tried to capture radio signals from Rediffusion, transistor radio sets brought to audience 24-hour-7-day free entertainment. While herbal tea shops created a public sonic space, transistor radio devices turned radio programs along with music broadcast shows to individual enjoyment at home. Such change of music-listening habit led to larger variety of market niche which encouraged radio stations to enrich their music resources in order to cater different individual interests. 7  Palm-size transistor radio became a Hong Kong pride that sold to global market. A Hong Kong-designed transistor, which was equaled to a cigarette-box size won a prize during the 1971 Hong Kong Industrial Fair. For details and photo, see oral history records via http:// www.thelibrarybysoundpocket.org.hk/listen/transistor-radio-01/.



Songs embedded in radio advertisements soon got fame. Written in everyday Cantonese, succinct and easy to remember, these mini Cantonese popular songs (usually 10–20 seconds) were widely spread through radio programs. Besides advertisement, radio drama was another emerging popular entertainment form that played the role as popular song bearer. As mentioned, radio station once was an indispensable outlet for mass audience to express opinions and emotions. After releasing the popular songs embedded in advertisements and radio dramas, audiences would write letters to the radio station to ask for a copy of the lyrics (Wong 2000, p. 98).8 Compared to traditional bulky equipment, transistor radio was slightly larger than a palm size, in a cheaper price affordable to the mass consumer. For the first time, music became mobile and personal enjoyment. Cantonese popular songs were gradually accepted as a modern form of entertainment instead of the once widely despised vulgar amusement. Fad of Cantonese Films and Cantonese Sing-Song Film Besides radio technology, the development of the film industry further expanded the spreading of Cantonese popular music. The vibrant 1960s was a decade when Hong Kong people witnessed the landing of film tycoons from Southeast Asia, filling the society with delicately produced wide-screen blockbusters. At the same time, after going through the post-­ war transitional period, Cantonese film production reached another climax, thanks to the mass production of Cantonese opera films and youth sing-song films. The latter one, mainly produced by Southeast Asian-­ origin Kong Ngee company, the Shaw and Sons—predecessor of Shaw Brothers and a lot more Cantonese film companies, targeted the rapidly growing youth population—the baby boomers. Chan Po-chu and Siao Fong-fong, two iconic versatile film actresses, brought Cantonese popular songs to a new height. The dynamic and modern dancing songs embedded in their sing-song films mostly catering to young audience, were extremely popular that many of them were made into recording discs. At least 80 albums from Chan and 40 from Siu were produced (Yu and Yang 2013, p.  7). As the synergy effect brought from popular songs and films was salient in the market, similar practice was widely adopted across the industry, which was, in fact, 8  In an interview, a veteran Cantonese songwriter recalled the memory of radio station in the 1960s.



in the same line of the aforementioned Belle in Penang. Albums of the songs sung by the famous film stars were released before the film to ­generate the first-round hits. Soon after, films were finally launched, altogether with the already popular film songs, further raged the market and helped both the film company and record label to create more revenue. By then, even though the definite term “Cantopop” was neither penned by renowned cultural workers nor appeared on popular cultural texts, Cantonese sing-song pops, altogether with the Bella in Penang dated back to 1954, already showcased the up-and-coming Cantonese pop fashion in Hong Kong. Another significant breakthrough in the 1960s in the popular music scene was the glamorous sparks from the band scene, which was under strong influence from the Euro-American rock band culture. The next chapter discusses more about this part.

Breakthroughs in the 1970s Extending the popularity of sing-song films and dancing music, Cantonese popular song development saw a new format at the beginning of the 1970s. The prosperous sonic-scape of band sound in the 1960s nurtured a group of young singers among whom most of them received English education. They heavily adopted the Western popular singing methods (e.g. plain and natural voice) and song arrangement structure (e.g. the AABA structure with clear main melody and chorus for easy remembrance). While such a hobby was more or less refined in middle-class and elite youths, a real landmark breakthrough of Cantonese popular song was introduced alongside with the relentless popularity of television. Television Broadcasting Limited (TVB), the free television station launched in 1967, offered to Hong Kong mass audience a new way of entertainment. A free broadcasting station providing all-Chinese programs, soon became the most important medium for information seeking and leisure enjoyment. Compared to the situation in the 1960s that only the social elites could enjoy paid-television in which English programs dominated the air time, television became a mass communication platform in the 1970s. In 1973, TVB soap dramas filled the air in a daily basis, soon becoming part of people’s everyday life. Subsequent to this trend was the blooming of Cantonese popular songs which were already detached from traditional Cantonese operatic singing methods and developed into a larger variety other than dancing film songs. In this process, Sam Hui



was a must-mention name, an elite youth (university graduate) who transformed Cantonese popular songs into a genre enjoying equally popular and legitimate status as English and Mandarin pop. Therefore, in the 1970s Cantopop as a unique Hong Kong cultural product and a distinguished music genre in the Sinophone landscape had been gradually taking shape following the blossoming of television drama theme songs and the growing number of trendy youth idols who were willing to take innovation by mixing Western music elements with Cantonese melodies. By then, the late 1970s, the iron triangle of Hong Kong’s Cantonese-centered cultural signature stood firmly in the Sinophone world: Hong Kong films, Hong Kong television dramas and Cantopop. Television Drama Theme Songs The first television drama aired at prime time on Monday to Friday was Love in the Rain/Yanyu Mengmeng 煙雨濛濛, first released in March 1973, with a theme song carrying the same title sung by Adam Cheng. Notably, this song was composed by Joseph Koo Ka-fai, who, for the first time, was required to compose a television theme song in Cantonese for TVB. Before that, he was already a sought-after film music composer for film companies such as Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest. In terms of the TVB theme song task, as a matter of fact, at first, little hope was vested on the market impact of Cantonese television drama theme song. Hence, Joseph Koo received little budget from TVB to complete the composition. Love in the Rain/Yanyu Mengmeng 煙雨濛濛, the theme song of the drama series, was composed in an AABA structure, accompanied by Western instruments (e.g. the piano chorus as the prelude) and the whole song was arranged with changing of keys in order to fortify the emotive power. Though the composition was later proved to be an early prototype of today’s Cantopop, due to the insufficiency of all-direction promotion, this song did not arouse much attention at that time. It was until another TVB television theme song The Fatal Irony sung by Sandra Lang (仙杜拉) that Cantopop started to gain fame. TVB 1974 soap opera The Fatal Irony and its theme song which carried the same title had represented a breakthrough role in Hong Kong’s popular culture. The natural yet arresting singing performed by Sandra



Lang captured millions of hundreds of audiences every night. And this ballad song was understood set up a prototype for television drama theme songs in the years to come. Though Wong Chi-­wah commented that (Wong 2000, pp. 127–129) The Fatal Irony was not much different from those new-style Cantonese songs sung in the 1950s in terms of the themes and contents, university music scholars Yu and Yang gave applause to this song. Written for a romance TV drama in a setting of Republican China period, this song with sweet melody was actually sung by a Chinese-British mix-race singer Sandra Lang. Though composed in a traditional Chinese musical tone with the five-tonal scale (宮商角徵羽 which does not contain the Fa and Ti in the Western style seven-­tonal scale), it was presented accompanied by an integration of Eastern and Western musical instruments. Sandra’s night-club Western singing method was far distant from the traditional Cantonese opera singing. This could be regarded as a mini-revolution in Hong Kong’s music scene (Yu and Yang 2013, p. 10). Though seeing a hint of blossom of Cantonese popular song business, cultural workers in television and music industry still took this as a test of water temperature. Joseph Koo recalled that the composition of The Fatal Irony was by all means an experiment by mixing Erhu (二胡 Chinese string instrument) and Western orchestra strings, as the former could express the ambiance of the story theme, and the latter on enlarged the scale of the whole arrangement. Moreover, the singer, Sandra Lang, a blond mix, further injected fresh look to this song (Wong 2007, p. 40). By then, filling household space every night were not only joys and sorrows transmitted from television dramas and late night variety shows but also emotion-driven melody and poetically expressive lyrics from a large number of theme songs. Becoming talk of town were story-line ups and downs from TV dramas and humming by people at home and at work places were chorus of the theme songs. Following the popularity of The Fatal Irony, numerous television theme songs were launched, further securing the popular status of theme songs from Cantonese television dramas. The songwriters in that period of time, namely Joseph Koo and James Wong, were talented songwriters skillful in managing linguistic rhythm and poetic expression in Cantonese language. By that time, it was already a common practice that both fashion dramas and historical costume dramas were accompanied by a theme song,



among which mostly became legends and even icons of Hong Kong popular culture. Theme songs from these drama series—The Bund/Shanghai Tan 上海灘 (1980), A House is Not a Home/Jia Bian 家變 (1977), Chor Lau Heung/Chu Liu Xiang 楚留香 (1979) and to name a lot more— became household classics. Skillful in harnessing Eastern and Western instrumental arrangement, Joseph Koo made use of different sound textures from instruments to facilitate the sentimental expression of the songs that, at the same time, were consistent with the TV drama themes. James Wong, an intellectual in Chinese literature and gifted in garnering nine tones of Cantonese dialect, composed lyrics like writing poems. Besides the classic case of The Bund mentioned in Chap. 5, Chor Lau Heung/楚留香 was another legendary work. It was composed by Joseph Koo and penned by James Wong and Tang Wai-hung 鄧偉雄, featuring Adam Cheng as baritone solo with choir. Opening with powerful gong, bass drum and timpalin, the image of cavalier hero Chor Lau Heung was vividly revealed. Generally arranged in an AABA structure, mainly accompanied by strings (sometimes horn and oboe were added to light up the mood) and enriched the whole editing with Chinese instruments (e.g. Erhu 二胡, Guzheng古箏), Chor Lau Heung to a large extent had marked a signature of Joseph Koo style (Yu and Yang 2013, pp. 95–96). In a series of costume swordsmen-fighting drama theme songs in the 1980s, this Joseph Koo style was embodied to parallel poetic lyrics written by James Wong, Cheng Kwok-kong (鄭國江) and Jimmy Lo (盧國沾). Debut of Cantopop Pioneer In the field of Cantopop, a few names could never be left in negation, including Sam Hui. It is said that by mixing early Cantonese popular song tunes with the mood of being Elvis Presley, Sam Hui epitomized Cantopop the most popular musical genre in Hong Kong. Sam was even regarded the “Elvis Presley in the East”. What characterized Cantopop included features of use of Cantonese, lyrics written in Cantonese whose intonation shall be accorded to the melodic scale, singing in natural voice, lyrics organized into AABA structure and Western style of instrumental orchestration accompaniment, Sam Hui’s Cantopop debut took place, instead of in concert hall, but in TVB. TVB’s big boss role in Hong Kong’s television industry was contributed by both its enthralling TV dramas and televised variety shows. Besides the signature show—EYT—some other smaller-scale shows filled



different time slots, including a situation-comedy The Hui Brothers Show/ Shuangxing Baoxi 雙星報喜. This sit-com was aired on TVB in 1971– 1972, staging two Hui brothers—Michael Hui and Sam Hui. In addition to hilarious and satire conversational performance, MTV (music television) shows were inserted to enrich the content. In 1972, a song titled Tower in Clouds/Tieta Lingyun 鐵塔凌雲 sung by Sam Hui was released during the show. The song was penned by the two Hui brothers. Similar but different from other Sam Hui’s Cantopop works, though Tower in Clouds was released earlier than his most signature light-rock film songs, this song was interpreted in Sam Hui’s expressively natural voice and was accompanied by Western instruments (e.g. guitar and percussions), poetically conveying human life sentiments instead of labor-class life (e.g. gambling), while the latter theme turned out extremely salient in Sam Hui’s future Cantopop works. Even today, the Tower in Clouds is still widely known to Hong Kong people, representing one of the pioneer Cantopop classics. However, Wong Chi-wah pointed out, though it was a common sense that Sam Hui and his Tower in Clouds marked the beginning of Cantopop, little evidence showed that Tower in Clouds received big applause when it first came out in the comedy show. He argued that, after its release on TVB, seldom seen other singers cover or record this song, which was actually a common practice after a song got considerable success (Wong 2000, p. 126). Recording TV Theme Songs The high popularity of local television programs and theme songs offered larger room of development for Hong Kong’s local record label companies. Crown Records (娛樂唱片) was established in 1958, focusing on Cantonese opera recordings. In the 1970s, due to the close relationship between the top leader Lau Tung and a group of Cantonese opera singers, the Crown Records also recorded a series of television drama theme songs which were very often sung by former Cantonese opera singers. Capital Artist (華星), founded in 1971, was a conspicuous case that its close association with TVB bestowed the company franchised the release of television theme song albums. As the blossom of television dramas since the late 1970s had largely facilitated the radical popularity of Cantonese popular songs, this trend turned Hong Kong’s music scene into a new stage. A large number of television drama theme songs became



Table 6.1  Number of gold or platinum TV song albums Year

TV song albums that were gold or platinum disc among the total gold and platinum awarded discs

1978 1979 1980 1981

4 out of 25 (16%) 5 out of 43 (11.6%) 9 out of 31 (29%) 13 out of 55 (23.6%)

Source: IFPI Hong Kong http://www.ifpihk.org/content-page/award; Calculated and summarized by the author

popular and topped in billboard charts. For example, in 1978, the first Top Ten Chinese Gold Songs Award(十大中文金曲) by RTHK, five of the ten awarded songs were television theme songs, mostly composed by the widely known composers and lyricists: Joseph Koo, James Wong and Jimmy Lo. By then, the debut of “Cantopop” label was merely at door-step (Table 6.1). Film Song Pops As discussed in Chap. 2, since the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, it was a milestone decade that Bruce Lee-led Hong Kong films known to mass Western audience and Hui brothers’ urban comedies gave a new face to Cantonese films. Thanks to the rising star  film company—Golden Harvest—which disrupted the Shaw Brothers Mandarin blockbuster dominance, Hong Kong’s audience were exposed under the most vivid urban dynamics from silver screen. These dynamics were not only embedded in visual impacts but also interpreted through the equally arresting sonic scene—rocks and pops in films. Another feature that marked a popular cultural cornerstone was film music—film songs in Cantonese pop genre. Compared to previous Cantonese films featuring opera performers or sing-song girls, Hui brothers, once iconic figures in Golden Harvest, successfully revealed Hong Kong’s down-to-earth characters on silver screens and pop song singing: urbanization, capitalism and wealth gap, which were unveiled through hilarious but sarcastic performance and music composition. The film Games Gamblers Play broke the box-office record in 1974. Sam Hui’s album carrying the same title sold 150,000 units. The sale of Sam Hui’s



albums in the following years kept soaring, signifying an irreversible wave of Cantopop (Wong 2007, p. 39, p. 42). Sam Hui was widely regarded the pioneer of Cantopop. Two types of popular Cantonese songs became characteristic of Sam Hui and in some of the Hui brothers’ 1970s films: rock-style songs such as Games Gamblers Play/Guima Shuangxing 鬼馬雙星, The Last Message/ Tiancai Yu Baichi 天才與白痴 and ballad-style songs with themes in romance or life philosophy, such as Words from a Flâneur/Langzi Xinsheng 浪子心聲 and Dimple Soft Smile/Liwo Qianxiao 梨渦淺笑. Noteworthy is that, Peter Lai (黎彼得) penned lots of this grassroot-style gambler songs for Sam Hui and the first film company that presented Hui brothers’ films—Golden Harvest provided a powerful platform for Sam Hui to kick off his journey becoming King of Cantopop. Featuring Sam Hui’s musical achievement and making him the “King of Cantopop”, along with his handsome face, were natural vocal interpretations of the most down-to-earth life experience of and food of thoughts for millions of Hong Kong commoners. When Sam Hui sang “success will eventually come as you deserve, while there is no need to ask for more from god if you are doomed to have not 命裡有時終須有 命裡無時莫強 求” (lyrics from Words from a Flâneur), it was friends lamented “let it be” over the dining table. Far from dogmatic lessons or endless complaints, the rapport-talk-style ballad singing touched the nerves of the mass population. Another landmark work that epitomized Cantopop was the film Let’s Rock/Dajia Le 大家樂 (1975). A James Wong directed musical-alike Cantonese film that featured a group of music-loving young boys, Let’s Rock presented to audience endless audio enjoyments and innovations through its more than ten pieces of film songs. In reality, the young boys starred in the film were members of a music band called  The Wynners. Dancing, singing and playing hard in the film, the five young men on silver screen lived as they were actually lived, vividly demonstrating the rock ‘n’ roll spirit. Notably, the coming of the New Wave film generation further promoted larger variety of Cantopop genres. Mixture of electropop and ballad, Real Man/Da Zhang Fu 大丈夫, theme song of the New Wave film Jumping Ashes/Tiaohui 跳灰 (1976) projected the heroic masculinity. Also in the same film, Ask/Wen Wo 問我 offered a lighter tone in its country folk style of melody. A number of film songs included in the series of New Wave film works shared a number of common characteristics: accompanied by Western



instruments in ultra-refined orchestrating and penned with lyrics in plain Cantonese language. The singers who interpreted these new style musical works were all up-and-coming young singers: didn’t receive Cantonese operatic training, while showcasing their most natural voice in singing. As Popular as Down to Earth The sensation stirred by Hui brothers’ filmic and music works was said due to their vivid reflection of the multi-faceted worlds of millions of Hong Kong commoners. Compared to Mandarin songs that projected glamorous social elite circle, Sam Hui’s interpretation of the world was down to earth. That said, through a meticulous review of Cantonese popular songs, the “down-to-earth” character was actually seldom a breakthrough in the music scene. Instead, Games Gamblers Play by Sam Hui conveyed a message, which was as “vulgar” as those sung by Cheng Kwan-min. In the 1950s, Sigh of gambler/ 賭仔自嘆 and Teddy Boy in the Gutter/ 飛哥跌落坑渠 was looked down upon even by Cantonese opera singers. However, the songs with a similar gambling theme but sung by a university student Sam Hui in the 1970s gained much higher social status. Associated with all English elements, being an iconic band member (as he also integrated Western rock elements into the Cantonese popular song) and a university student of the University of Hong Kong, Sam Hui turned Cantonese popular songs into a fashionable cultural product. Similarly, Games Gamblers Play, another gambling-related song, was performed in TVB’s comedy show The Hui Brothers Show. Admittedly, not every song from Sam Hui was gambling oriented. The high popularity enjoyed by Sam Hui was extended to his large pack of Cantopop that spoke the vox populi—sighs from labor class, urban romance, daily life in Hong Kong. Epitomizing Cantopop Seeing the rapid growth of Cantonese music culture and the Cantopop industry, the RTHK launched the Top Ten Chinese Gold Songs Award for the first time in 1978. The award doubtlessly and officially epitomized the leading status of Cantopop in the society. By then, there already existed an enthusiastic group of local composers and lyricists, namely Joseph Koo, James Wong, Cheng Kwok-kong, Jimmy Lo, Peter Lai and



a growing group of Cantopop singers who were either originally English song fanatics or Cantonese operatic-trained professional singers. This expanding pool of music talents, facilitated by the advancement of media technologies, were motor engines that led the Cantopop industry to its climax. To a large extent, the blossom of local television culture and the full-fledged Cantonese film development played significant roles in the journey of legitimizing the leading role of Cantopop in Hong Kong society. Furthermore, the worlding of Hong Kong TV dramas and Hong Kong films was by all means auxiliary to the worlding of Cantopop, making this unique Cantonese-centered musical genre stand out in the Sinophone world. Besides the song award, Cantopop professional association was also established in the city. In 1946, the Performing Rights Society (PRS) of the UK had already set up an agency in Hong Kong to protect music copyright of its members and members of its overseas affiliated societies. In the 1970s, seeing the radically expanding Cantopop business, musicians from Hong Kong demanded equal institutionalized copyright protection in the realm of Cantonese popular music. The active group of composers and lyricists mentioned above were ready and willing to cooperate with the PRS to establish a healthy Cantopop business. It was against this background that the former PRS Hong Kong branch collaborated with this group of Hong Kong composers in 1977 to establish the Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong Limited (CASH). Until now, CASH serves as the primarily important organization administering copyright and licensing issues of musical works in Hong Kong.9 Despite controversies, without much doubt, the coming-of-age television drama songs and Sam Hui’s down-to-earth Cantonese songs led Hong Kong’s popular music scene into a new era. Although neither integrating east-west musical elements nor incorporating grassroot everyday life into lyrics was innovative practice in Hong Kong as such practices already could be seen in Cantonese opera performance at the beginning of the twentieth century. The growth of Hong Kong local baby boomers, the arrival of Western rock ‘n’ roll (elaborated in next chapter) and the prevalence of television as household device altogether contributed to the formation of a new epoch of Hong Kong’s popular cultural industry. The coverage of mass media in the old time could seldom have reached audience base as wide as television in the 1970s. Notably, the launch of free 9

 Homepage of the organization: http://www.cash.org.hk/en.



Table 6.2  Number of gold discs obtained by different local singers (1977) 1977 Artist

Number of Gold Discs

Teresa Carpio Chelsia Chan Chau-ha The Wynners Teresa Deng Sam Hui Paula Tsui Rowena Ellen Cortes Adam Cheng and Liza Wong Other Total

3 1 2 1 1 2 2 1 3 16

Source: IFPI Hong Kong http://www.ifpihk.org/content-page/award; Calculated and summarized by the author

television by TVB reached over 2  million population, nearly half of the whole city (Wong 2003, p. 106). Through the mini black box, the color television screen, people got to know stories from all around the world and were filled with popular songs that enriched emotive enjoyment. Popular songs in Cantonese, therefore, were widely accepted by both grassroot and social elite classes. From Tables  6.2 and 6.3, a significant increase in the local gold and platinum discs could be found from 1977 to 1978.10 Even some famous singers who used to sing English songs only had to make compromise and sing Cantopop (Wong 2000, p. 143).11 Notably, in 1967, Hong Kong became an official member of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). In 1977, IFPI collaborated with TVB held the Hong Kong Golden Disc Award. Golden disc means over 15,000 sales units and Platinum disc means over 30,000 sales units.12

10  In the 1970s, golden disc meant over 15,000 sales units and platinum disc referred to over 30,000 sales units. 11  Such as George Lam, who studied abroad since his teens, used to be an English solo singer. He launched his first Cantopop album in 1978. 12  Due to the escalating trend of album sales, the standard was changed to 25,000 sales for Golden Album and 50,000 for Platinum. The standard was reverted to 15,000 and 30,000 in



Table 6.3  Number of gold discs obtained by different local singers (1978) 1978 Artist

Number of Gold Disc

Number of Platinum Disc

Chelsia Chan Chau-ha Roman Tam Sam Hui Paula Tsui Albert Cheung Hau-mo The New Topnotes Gracie Rivera Tracy Huang Lu-yi Teresa Carpio Chan Lai-sze Teresa Deng Fanny Wang, Fung Wai Tong Adam Cheng Other Total

1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 4 19

1 1 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6

Source: IFPI Hong Kong http://www.ifpihk.org/content-page/award; Calculated and ummarized by the author

The Heyday of Cantopop in the 1980s In the film industry, the 1970s paved a way of localization and laid the founding stone of the industrial revolution in terms of creativity and genre variety, and the 1980s witnessed the peak blooming of Hong Kong films that made this small British colony known to the world. In the television industry, the 1980s as well symbolized the heyday of TV drama culture, which visualized the kaleidoscopic urbanity and imagined ancient fantasy to the vast local and overseas markets. Similarly, in Cantopop industry, following the inception of local bands in the 1960s (more discussion in next chapter), the popularity of Cantonese television theme songs and the synergized effect generated from the combination of Cantopop and Cantonese films (e.g. the Hui brothers’ series), the 1980s was widely regarded the golden age: the consolidation of Cantopop as the Hong Kong primary pop genre, the making

2006 due to the downturn of the industry. Information available from: http://www.ifpihk. org/content-page/rules-of-ifpi-hkg-gold-disc-award.



of glamorous stardom and showbiz that topped the East Asian region and the prosperity of albums sales which led to a vigorous pop scene. If the theme song of RTHK signature docudrama series Below the Lion Rocks represented the 1970s Hong Kong—a lifeboat embracing millions of hard-working citizens who hoped for the bright future, the 1980s Hong Kong could seldom be summarized by one song. Instead, the dazzling 1980s Hong Kong popular music scene was vividly mirrored in the 1985 TVB Jade Solid Gold Best 10 Awards Presentation (勁歌金曲頒獎 典禮) opening show: amid the magnificently awe-aspiring up-beat dancing music were a group of versatile superstars who stunningly delivered their yearly top-charted songs. This group of idols, namely Leslie Cheung, Alan Tam (譚詠麟), Anita Mui (梅艷芳), Jacky Cheung (張學友) and so on, epitomized the heyday of Cantopop as Hong Kong was the trendsetter for the whole East Asian region.13 In the opening show, exquisitely dressed Cantopop idols extended on the stage their enormous assurance and energy—a lively reflection of the city itself, the popular cultural light tower to the vast Sinophone world. When staging in the Hong Kong Coliseum (HKC) became a career goal for East Asian singers, this Hong Kong pride had reached its peak in the twentieth century. Staging of Megastars Alan Tam, Leslie Cheung, Anita Mui, Beyond (an all-time popular local band), and their voices and melodies were not only iconic popular symbols in the 1980s but also became irreplaceable Hong Kong popular culture icons to millions of hundreds of people from the Sinophone world. Besides their achievements in the Cantopop industry, their profound involvement in television, film and other cultural industries further proves a common practice in the 1980s—a multi-medium stardom. This was an encompassing industrial mega project that involved media entities from different sectors. The Capital Artist and TVB first promoted Anita Mui, the award recipient of the first New Talent Singing Championship (新秀歌唱比賽). Capital Artist was an affiliated record label under the mega company TVB, and the two organizations had intensive human resource exchange. After her fascinating performance in the singing contest, Anita Mui soon became 13   Video recording could watch?v=pNr1DChUG5k.







a superstar under the Capital Artist record label. Different from the commonly crafted image of female singers who were often packaged as sweet lover longing for love and care, Anita Mui had a revolutionary breakthrough in terms of her star image and song genre. She was packaged into a variety of icons: a bad girl, a tender sing-song girl and a seductive Medusa. The multiple faces of Anita Mui, a crucial factor attributing to her super stardom, were accomplished by an eminent image designer Eddie Lau Pui-kei (劉培基). Thanks to the swift development of media technologies, Anita Mui did not only appear as a singer but also as a talented performer on MTV, television variety shows, films and later a large number of concert stage shows. Needless to say, she was the recipient of a large number of music awards and her numerous acclaimed songs topped various billboards. In 2003, she died from cancer and ended her legend as “daughter of Hong Kong”. As Anita Mui being a female legend, soon Alan Tam and Leslie Cheung were promoted as male legends. Alan Tam was never a rooster in the Cantopop industry. He was a member of the Wynners, a popular band established in the 1970s. In the 1980s, Alan Tam became the most important star of PolyGram (寶麗金) after Sam Hui left the company. The Deutsch-origin record label PolyGram had been a strong rival to the Hong Kong local Capital Artist. Packaged as a romantic lover and prince charming, Alan Tam soon established his iconic role as a male idol with a series of successful album works: (1981) carried four platinum songs, (1982) consolidated the successful mode of Japanese cover songs, (1983) presented five platinum songs and the top hit song The Late Spring/Chilai de Chuntian 遲 來的春天 even stormed all the golden awards of various annual award-presenting ceremonies. In the following years, his name and his songs continued to dominate all sorts of popular music platforms. He was awarded the most popular male singer, and his songs were presented golden awards year after year. In 1984, following the opening of the Hong Kong Coliseum, Alan Tam held six individual concerts. This number broke the record of the first round of the individual concert. Reaching his career zenith in 1988, Alan Tam announced an “abdication”—he would stop receiving awards and step back from the industry frontline to make room for newcomers. Another icon of Cantopop and of Hong Kong popular culture, Leslie Cheung, became a significant competitor to Alan Tam in the 1980s. A singing contest award recipient similar to Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung kicked



off his singing career in RTV as he won a prize from RTV singing contest. Upon RTV contract completion, he joined Capital Artists in 1982. Soon, he was promoted as a romantic lover with the album (1983), which became his first golden disc. In the following years, each year in different award-presenting ceremonies, Leslie Cheung and Alan Tam were the most attractive icons and also had the fiercest competition. Throughout 1984–1988, each year in the Top Ten Chinese Gold Songs Award organized by RTHK, two songs were from Tam and one song from Cheung. Classics from Cheung include Monica (1984), Who is Echoing/Youshui Gongming 有誰共鳴 (1986), and Sleepless Night/Wuxin Shuimian 無心睡眠 (1987). Similar to Tam, Leslie Cheung kept winning awards at different platforms, including the Hong Kong Top Sales Music Award, and gained huge popularity among Hong Kong audience. Not only a superstar across the pan-Chinese community, Leslie Cheung was well received in Japan and South Korea. His Mandarin album (1987) was highly acclaimed in Taiwan and South Korean billboard. The competition between Tam and Cheung in award contests could never be comparable to the competition between the fans of these two idols. Quarrels and skirmishes between the two camps occurred from time to time in the 1980s, until the moment when Alan Tam announced he would step down from award conferring. In the late 1980s, Leslie Cheung also made a similar gesture, stepping back from the singing industry and devoting more of his career in the film industry. In the 1980s, although criticisms appeared as a large number of cover songs (elaborated in next chapter) and songs of romance dominated Hong Kong’s popular song award ceremonies throughout the 1980s, from another perspective, the 1980s offered a big stage for singers to build up their appealing personal styles. Besides the most glamorous youth idols such as Alan Tam, Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui, singers from the traditional camp such as Adam Cheng, Michael Kwan and Liza Wong still played important roles in the industry. Evidence could be found from the IFPI annual golden disc award that a certain proportion of the golden disc and platinum disc awards were still conferred to this group of traditional style of singers who were exceptionally popular among middle-­ aged audience. Among the large group of young singers, besides the superstars, a number of skilled singers also won people’s applause: George Lam (林子祥) who was expert in mastering Euro-American genres and had introduced foreign genres such as blues and R&B into Cantopop, Sally Yip (葉倩文)



who was famous for her open-minded personal character and the broad-­ spectrum voice, Sandy Lam (林憶蓮) and Priscilla Chan (陳慧嫻) who represented two types of urban women. Sandy Lam, who later became a diva of Mandarin pop in Hong Kong, was born into a Shanghai-origin family in Hong Kong, and she worked as a radio station disc jockey (DJ) at her very young age. In the 1980s, with the soaring popularity of radio music programs, DJs had built a closed relationship with the Cantopop industry as DJs worked at the very frontline of receiving the latest composition and disseminating them to the wide public. DJ became a fashionable profession and a number of well-known DJs later also entered the Cantopop industry. Albert Au (歐瑞強) and Vivian Chow (周慧敏) were two notable examples. Local and International Record Labels The next chapter discusses the “worlding” facet of Hong Kong that in the early pre-war era; this tiny British far-eastern colony had already housed a number of international recording companies. In the 1980s, when the Hong Kong Cantopop industry saw its gilded age, Hong Kong also became a battlefield of major international record labels: EMI (started its business in Hong Kong in the 1950s), Polydor (established its Hong Kong branch in 1970), WEA Warner (started Hong Kong business in 1977) and CBS/Sony (started Hong Kong business in 1978). International record companies brought new resources to Hong Kong’s local market. According to Wong Chi-chung, the setting up of Sony in Hong Kong was found to be the major driving force of the later prevalence of Japanese cover songs in the Cantopop industry (Wong 1997). In addition, local labels also started to make Cantopop a lucrative business, such as Capital Artist (華星) which was originally affiliated to TVB and Contect Sound (康藝成音) which contracted prominent singers such as Sam Hui and Paula Tsui (徐小鳳). The close collaboration between TVB and Capital Artist, which boosted the cross-medium effect for Cantopop, further developed the industry. A good number of singers were introduced to the wide audience through singing contests organized by TVB, and TVB, to a large extent, had become the major singer incubator for Capital Artist. Usually, award-winning artists or those who showed great potential were invited to sign a contract with Capital Artist. In the following years, these singers and their songs were given sufficient public exposure through Capital Artists’ music platforms and, more importantly,



television broadcast—the medium that reached the widest audience base. During this period of time, facilitated by TVB’s domestic and overseas promotional and market penetration competence, singers under the Capital Artist were among those best known to the city and among the overseas Sinophone communities. Capital Artist, in the 1980s, presented to the global audience a long list of superstars among whom a large number of them became immortal legends in the Sinophone music world: Leslie Cheung, Anita Mui, Roman Tam, Jenny Tseng (甄妮), Agnes Meiling Chan (陳美齡) and so on. Capital Artist made 20% of the market share among Hong Kong’s album sales (Fung and Shum 2012, pp. 18–19). Cross-Media Stardom in the Making In the 1980s, a gradually built and soon matured stardom-making system reigned Hong Kong’s entertainment industry. More often than not, star images were found ubiquitous: MTVs, music albums, concerts, films, television shows, commercials on different platforms and non-profit charity shows. This common phenomenon is called cross-media stardom, multi-­ media stardom or all-star, which is an all-encompassing business that involves entertainment corporations from different sectors. In Hong Kong, cross-media stardom is one of the efficient ways to maximize revenue because, by doing so, the audience base of one particular sector could be extended to another sector. The rationale is simple: repetition of media exposure facilitates stars to gain massive attention from audience and thus maintaining their “big names”. Though popular stars’ cross-media performance is operated by different companies, these entertainment companies usually had established partnerships to groom stars in order to maximize the stardom impact and profits. Among this mechanism, a well-developed artist management system was subsequently established to conduct the promotion of artists. Managers would select different performing jobs for their artists to help them gain fame and popularity within a designated period of time. Following the proved successful model of the J-Pop industry, recording companies commissioned famous designers at high cost to design record covers and fashion images for singers as a means to market their stars (Hong Kong Heritage Museum 2008, pp. 8–9). From discussions above, we could see that radio music programs (the DJ’s promotion of popular music), television dramas and televised variety



shows, since the 1970s, offered wide and effective platforms for Cantopop singers to increase public exposure. Other than that, television advertisements became an effective channel to promote both the stars and the products—a win-win tactic. Cantopop gained more public exposure, thanks to the intensive airing of the advertisements. And the advertised products were endorsed by stars to sharpen the attractiveness. This ad-pop co-inhabitation set a long-lasting trend in the industry for decades. The blossoming Hong Kong films also collaborated with Cantopop industry and such collaboration reached its climax in the 1980s and continued up to the 1990s as Cantopop superstars were frequently starred in films. In Hong Kong, people could easily name a considerable number of cross-media stars, while in the Hollywood system we could hardly name a few. Leslie Cheung was a prominent example in this regard. By joining the leading recording company Capital Artist in 1982, he was crafted into a romantic lover singer. In 1986, he was invited to join Cinepoly (新藝寶), an affiliated company of the rapidly rising Cinema City film company. Here, Cheung presented to the market numerous award-winning and golden-­ platinum sales-record-achieving Cantopop works, and he was starred in a number of Cinema City films. Hong Kong’s film noir classic, A Better Tomorrow/Yingxiong Bense 英雄本色 (1986) directed by John Woo was the first film that starred Leslie Cheung under his Cinema City contract. In the film, Leslie Cheung sang the theme song A Better Past/ Dangnian Qing 當年情, which became a household melody. In the years to come, Leslie Cheung not only continued taking the lead as a singing king in the Cantopop sector but also starred in a large number of filmic works among which some were exquisitely made art-house films bringing him internationally applauded “best actor” awards. A lot more examples of Hong Kong’s cross-media stars prevailed in the industry and kept the field alive until the 2000s. Twins, debuted in 2004, a duo-girl singing group under the EEG (Emperor Entertainment Group 英皇娛樂集團) and had been active across various entertainment sectors, was regarded the extremely successful yet last cross-media stardom legend in Hong Kong’s popular culture industry. After a sexual scandal involving one of the duo-girl members, they were rapidly shelved by the company, and this type of cross-medium stardom manufacturing soon withered due to the gigantic time and resource investment.



Cantopop on Billboards At the same time, various types of Hong Kong local billboards were launched to further boost the industrial productivity and intensify the market competitiveness. Originally, award presentation was closely related to Hong Kong’s DJ culture. DJs played songs according to program styles and their own personal preference, and in the process, they presented “DJ’s professional recommendation” to the audience under different categories. These recommendations gradually became a barometer of popularity and even the quality of the Cantopop. Calculating different singers’ annual “station dispatching songs” (派台歌)—songs that were first sent to radio stations to be promoted by DJs—was one of the major criteria evaluating singers’ performance. Major broadcasters, TVB, RTHK and Commercial Radio set up billboards for Cantopop to increase their public exposure and for the mass audience to keep pace with the latest compositions. Despite different types of measurements (e.g. city-wide voting, DJ’s pick, committee vote), broadcaster billboards still became a significant battlefield for singers and their record companies. Annual airtime of different songs would eventually lead to awards in the year-end ceremony, which further affirmed a singer’s position in the industry. The first influential award-presenting billboard was the IFPI Gold Disc award. By so far, Hong Kong’s annual landmark award-presenting ceremonies include Top Ten Chinese Gold Songs Award (十大中文金曲頒獎 典禮) organized by RTHK since 1978, the Jade Solid Gold Best 10 Awards (十大勁歌金曲頒獎典禮) presented by TVB since 1984, the Ultimate Song Chart Awards Presentation (叱吒樂壇流行榜) organized by the Commercial Radio since 1988 and the Hit Awards (新城勁爆頒獎 典禮) organized by the Metro Radio since 1995. Fanatic Showbiz When talking about popular music and Cantopop, one could never neglect an influential medium—music concert. On the one hand, it bridged the industry and the everyday life as going to music concert became ordinary people’s precious chance to get intimate contact with their idols, such as hand-shaking and gift presenting. On the other hand, it vested irresistible



impact on the industry as it turned out to be a big business for record companies and a significant part in achieving superior stardom. As in the 1970s when Sam Hui plowed the way for the prosperity of Cantopop, he was the first young idol who held a solo concert. From 1973 onward, Sam held concerts in Hong Kong City Hall annually. The Lee Gardens and Academic Hall were the other two popular venues for individual concerts. In 1982, Michael Kwan broke the record by holding six concerts in the 3000-capacity Queen Elizabeth Stadium. In the following year, in 1983, the Hong Kong Coliseum (HKC) was officially open, with a capacity of over 10,000. Again, Sam Hui became the first singer holding his individual concert in this newly established venue. From then to now, holding concerts in the Hong Kong Coliseum is a barometer of popularity not only for Hong Kong local singers but also singers from other countries in East Asia, especially the adjacent neighboring country Taiwan. In 1984, Alan Tam held six concerts in HKC. In 1985, he broke the record by holding 20 and 38 in 1989, while the record was soon broken by veteran Cantopop guru Sam Hui, who held 41 retirement concerts in 1992 and 44 concerts in 2004 as a comeback to the industry. In a macro-­ perspective, in 1983, there were only 18 concerts held in the Coliseum, while the number rose to 129 in 1989. The attendance of concerts soared from 150,000 in 1983 to 1,350,000 in 1989 (Wong 2003, p. 152). Indicated by Chow Yiu Fai and Jeroen de Kloet, before the opening of the HKC, first the Hong Kong City Hall in the 1960s and later the Academic Community Hall and the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in the late 1970s and early 1980s were the major popular music landmarks in the British-colonized Hong Kong. The establishment of the HKC, from another perspective, marked that Cantopop had turned from alternative genre and small-scale experimentalist performance to Hong Kong’s dominant popular culture symbol. Attending concerts in HKC became a dream for many Hong Kong youths and that experience of concert attending had formed precious memories in many Cantopop fans. Fanatic Cantopop lovers were imbued with tremendous affective  and emotional power by cheering with and interacting with their idols. Hong Kong pop stars need to be baptized in the HKC to achieve greater stardom and pop singers from other Chinese societies regard the HKC as a corridor to international recognition (Chow and de Kloet 2013). Under the megastar manufacturing industry and facilitated by the flamboyant fanatic showbiz, Cantopop stars’ in the 1980s achieved their historic milestone—number of gold and platinum disc reached historic peak (Table 6.4).



Table 6.4  Number of gold and platinum discs obtained by local singers Year

Gold Disc—25,000 units

Platinum Disc—50,000 units

1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997

16 19 24 13 20 22 18 12 9 ~a ~a 23 11 17 1 1 1 ~a 1 1 29

0 6 19 18 35 20 23 25 15 ~a ~a 62 40 28 0 0 0 ~a 0 0 23

multiple platinum


Source: IFPI Hong Kong http://www.ifpihk.org/content-page/award; Calculated and edited by the author a information is missing from the IFPI data

Short-Lived Heteroglossia in Band Sound In the 1960s, under the influence of Beatles, a large number of Hong Kong youth started formulating their own bands (more discussion in the next chapter). Though most of them at that time were fascinated with English songs, the vibrant band scene, which took place in different university music halls and small studios by all means had set a new trend in the city. In the 1970s, bands such as the Wynners began to get involved in the Cantopop scene as their members were featured in the film Let’s Rock (1975) collectively chanting Canto-rock (written by James Wong). Not to mention that core members of the Wynners, Alan Tam and Kenny Bee (鍾 鎮濤) became superstars in the 1980s. In the 1980s, along with the thriving Cantopop that features the full blossom of television theme songs, billboards and awards, as well as the



lucrative superstar manufacturing business, an “alternative” music scene –band scene of independent bands—also entered a golden age and further nourished the Hong Kong pop scene with heteroglossia (眾生喧嘩). Differing from the Euro-American-adoring band sound in the 1960s, the 1980s marked an age of Canto-rock. Instead of shaping their star images into romantic lovers or teddy boys, Canto-rock bands represented a force that was out of the mainstream yet expressing the voices from the bottom. Embedded in the drastic changing political-socio context in the 1980s, band sound conveyed the sound of time. In 1984, independent bands (indie bands) such as Cicada (蟬) and Black Bird (黑鳥) started to release their first self-financed albums, conveying themes highly related to political and social issues. Noteworthy is that, 1984 marked a historical turn as PRC and UK signed the Joint Declaration which struck a final note to Hong Kong’s future—sovereignty transition from British to People’s Republic of China will be executed on July 1, 1997. It was in year 1984 that Black Bird released their first album—cassette album . Black Bird represented a pioneering and iconic band in the 1980s Hong Kong. The vocal of the band, Lenny Kwok Tat-nin (郭達年) even launched a landmark music competition for the field—Guitar Players Festival (lasted from 1982 and 1983). In 1983, a cornerstone vinyl album was released as a result of this alternative music festival— (a PRC phonetic pinyin spelling of Hong Kong). Included in the album were songs from participant bands and individuals who had exceptional performance during the festival. In retrospect, the importance of this album could be gauged from the participants’ names: Lau Yee Tat (劉以達) from Tatming 達明一派, Beyond, Eddi Sing from Taichi 太極樂隊 and jazz guitarist Eugene Pao 包以正—all of them later became pillar figures in not only the band scene but also in Hong Kong’s music industry in the years to come. Soon after Black Bird, the band scene welcomed more players and had witnessed a dynamic blossom. To show their grassroot character which was far from commercial superstars’ glamorous presentation, most of them self-financed their music production by releasing low-cost cassettes instead of vinyl discs. Instead of holding dazzling concerts in HKC, they preferred to showcase their alternative works at an equally alternative venue—Ko Shan Theatre 高山劇場, a small-scale theater located at the outskirts of the commercial zone. In 1985, a small-scale record company called “Small Music” produced an album for a rock band called Lady Diana (皇妃樂隊). Avant-garde



punk-rock and out-of-the-box, Lady Diana’s sensual and quirky songs in sex and love themes were hardly accepted by mainstream audience. Yet the appearance of Lady Diana in the music industry to a large extent mirrored an extremely vibrant Hong Kong culture in the 1980s—full of creativity, originality and tolerance of multi-culture. Following Lady Diana, in the same year, Small Island (小島樂隊) had a debut in the scene with their first album  in 1985—. Different from Lady Diana, Small Island, more a pop band than a rock band, projected an amiable image with pop-style or light-rock songs in romance and life-inspirational themes. Small Island were proved appealing  to general audience as their representative works such as Legend of Small Island/Xiaodao Chuanshuo 小島傳說 in 1986  was included in Cantopop billboards. In 1986, more bands launched their albums, and following Small Island, more band music works were recognized in the mainstream Cantopop market, such as songs from Taichi, Tatming and Beyond. Taichi won the top award in the 1985 Carlsberg Pop Music Festival. But in fact, in 1985, the first session of the Calsberg music festival already saw other Hong Kong local bands such as Beyond and Anodize joining the competition. In 1986, Beyond launched their first album (a self-financed cassette album ). Tatming also released their first EP album in the same year. Besides, another band called Raidas attracted a lot of attention in the same year, with a number of high-quality songs such as Smoking Woman/Xiyan de Nuren 吸煙的女人. Notably, almost all the songs of Raidas were written by Albert Leung, one of Hong Kong’s iconic lyricist active throughout the 1990s until now. The colorful and energetically growing band scene forced mainstream Cantopop market could hardly turn a blind eye. RTHK and the Commercial Radio began to set aside airtime for band music. It was in 1986 that for the first time, band songs gained recognition from the mainstream market as Taichi’s Lost/Mitu 迷途 and Raidas’ Smoking Woman/Xiyan de Nuren 吸煙的女人 reached the top place at RTHK billboard. In the same year, Beyond became a contracted band under PolyGram. This significant move, turning from “underground” to “commercial”, was under strong controversy  among the music scene and Beyond’s fan groups.



The year 1987 marked a climax of Hong Kong’s band sound as seven-­ band songs reached top place at RTHK billboard, and Raidas’ song was even awarded Top Ten Chinese Gold Songs Award. Such a trend continued in 1988. The Tatming duo, among nine candidates, was awarded the best band in the Jade Solid Gold Award.14 Also in 1988, Grasshopper (草 蜢) established and released their first album. Members of Grasshopper are still active in today’s Cantopop industry. Hong Kong’s band scene was never detached from political issues. The crackdown of 1989 student movement in Beijing heavily stroke Hong Kong people’s minds. The Tiananmen tragedy on June 4 gave birth to another wave of political songs, especially among the bands. Embracing acute  political sensitivity  as usual, the bands reacted to the Tiananmen crackdown by expressing voices of fury and sorrow, such as albums of by the Black Bird in 1989 and by Tatming in 1990. The year 1990, however, saw disbanding of a number of bands, a trend that led to gradual fading of the once vibrant band scene. However, this short yet charming decade of band sound, with little doubt, added plenty of spice to the mainstream Cantopop scene, which was under criticism as over-commercialization. Besides romantic songs, a large variety of topics were covered by these bands: political issues such as national identity, the future of Hong Kong after 1997, urban issues such as spatial arrangement of the city and environmental protection, and social issues such as homosexuality and gender roles (Wong 2007, pp.  57–66; Chu 2000) (Image 6.1).

Wind Still Blows in the 1990s The glamor of Hong Kong Cantopop industry perpetuated in the 1990s, and the momentum of the whole industry, which was based on an established superstar-making system and showbiz, continued to dominate the cultural industry. Generations of superstars kept dazzling this tiny territory. In 1980, IFPI awarded 13 gold and 17 platinum discs to local artists. 14  The Best Band Award was established by TVB in 1986, while after a few years, the award was suspended during 1988–2000. From 2001 onward, the award was revived and renamed Best Group Award, but from time to time, awardees were suspended. In 2016, the Best Band award got resurrection as the award title has been divided into best band and best group awards.



Image 6.1  Tatming  and Chow Yiu Fai. Tatming duo 達明一派, comprised Anthony Wong and Lau Yee Tat, with their all-time favorite lyricist Chow Yiu Fai. (Photo by Dr. Jeroen de Kloet. Courtesy to Chow Yiu Fai)

By 1988, the numbers had jumped to 23 gold and 62 platinum discs, figures that demonstrated the great success of the record industry at the time (Hong Kong Heritage Museum 2008, p. 9). While the whole city joined force to keep the industry thriving, through karaoke and worshipping the “heavenly kings and queens”, similar to the situation in Hong Kong film industry, the latter part of the 1990s saw a downturn of the industry, especially in terms of music album sales (Table 6.5). Voice of Democracy Though Hong Kong mainstream Cantopop had little reflection of political campaign or national identity issues as the band scene did, in the 1980s, amidst the series of political-social changes took place in mainland China and Hong Kong, messages on these topics began to reveal salience.



Table 6.5  Sales of Cantopop albums (1988–95)

1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995

Local Music Disc (1000 units)

Revenue (1000 HKD)

Foreign Language Music Revenue (1000 Disc (1000 units) HKD)

6025 6345 6070 5072 7024 7164 7173 7417

181,981 181,981 315,051 329,053 485,351 556,903 622,412 657,340

3824 2775 3074 2592 3246 2456 3882 5253

194,539 166,188 200,851 186,072 266,672 208,687 300,970 470,918

Cited from: p.76, in Wong CC 2007, Floating voice 流聲, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Home Affairs Bureau Source: IFPI statistics

In 1982, as the Japanese Cultural Department tried to glorify the Sino-­ Japanese war in their history textbooks, there was a strong anti-Japanese movement in PRC.  The antagonist sentiments were extended to Hong Kong as well. Songs, in the form of Cantopop that addressed nationalism were popular in Hong Kong, such as Cheung Ming-man’s (張明敏) My Chinese Heart/Wo de Zhongguoxin 我的中國心 written by James Wong and Liza Wong’s Be a Brave Chinese/Zuo ge Yonggan Zhongguoren 做個勇 敢中國人 were the most popular (Ho 2000). The 1989 Tiananmen massacre—students’ pro-democracy movement was cracked down by the PRC government—marked a watershed in Hong Kong history, shattering Hong Kong people’s trust and expectation on Communist China and intensifying Hong Kong society’s fear of the forthcoming 1997 sovereignty transition. The year 1989 was also a milestone in Hong Kong’s Cantopop history, leading to a historically largest concert that lasted longest hours. To support the student movement in Beijing, a marathon concert (lasting 12 hours) was held on May 27, 1989, at Hong Kong’s Happy Valley Race Court. Staging in the concert were more than two hundred singers from Hong Kong and Taiwan to chant for democracy in PRC. This landmark fund-raising grand concert was called “Concert for Democracy in China” (民主歌聲獻中華). Through all-encompassing media broadcasting, Hong Kong people kept close attention to the progress of Beijing’s student movement in the summer of 1989. The radical and unexpected development of the social movement did not allow sufficient time for



Hong Kong cultural workers to prepare for the event. Yet in less than one week, a concert was held that drew millions of citizen participants and raised over HKD 13 million, signifying the peak of nationalism in Hong Kong’s Cantopop and even in the popular culture industry. Ironically, this landmark concert, which was held at the historical juncture of Chinese politics and amid the gilded age of Cantopop industry, faced a dilemma: for over a decade, seldom performed by mainstream superstars were songs carrying explicit political advocacy messages. Instead, in the commercialized Cantopop stardom business, songs of personal sentiments prevailed. From the program of this 12-hour concert, we could see that quite a number of singers performed life-inspiring songs, the one and only appropriate genre that was suitable for this special occasion. To complete the void and to show Hong Kong’s artists’ devotion, folk song singer Lowell Lo (盧冠廷) specially composed the song All For Freedom/Wei Ziyou 為自由, which later became the theme song of the concert. It took only 24 hours for a group of Cantopop stars to record this movement theme song before the concert took place. Until today, this theme song is still chanted by tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens who join the annual June 4 candle night memorial event in Victoria Park. After the 1989 incident, a post-89 syndrome shrouded the Cantopop scene. Lowell Lo, soon after the hallmark pro-democratic All For Freedom for the grand concert, released his seventh album titled . Included in the album were songs that unequivocally spoke about the suppressed movement. Duo band Tatming released their album in 1990, with a hit song Ask the Heaven/Tianwen 天問. Crying desperately, singer Anthony Wong in Ask the Heaven narrated “people are living under fears 百姓瑟縮於惶恐下”. Another band, Beyond, launched the album in 1992, featuring hit songs such as The Great Wall/Changcheng 長城. The rock song at first glance mourned over the decaying of an old civility, while at the same time accused PRC government’s cruelty toward the student movement. Though the band scene was gradually fading in the 1990s, one of the most popular bands—Beyond—continued to shine with a great number of high-quality music works, such as their household melody Boundless Ocean and Vast Sky/Haikuo Tiankong 海闊天空, a pop-rock song released in 1993 that projected high volume of energy, chanting never-ceasing pursuit of freedom. This song, along with another Beyond classic, such as



Image 6.2  Lyrics from Beyond’s Hit Song. Lyrics from Beyond “tightly clutch freedom in storms” was used during the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement to encourage Hong Kong people. The picture shows a banner with the lyrics in Hong Kong Baptist University. (Photo by the author)

Glorious Age/Guanghui Suiyue 光輝歲月, had become iconic musical pieces in nowadays Hong Kong pro-democratic social movements15 (Image 6.2). 15  In 2010, pan-democratic legislators in five districts collectively resigned due to election, which was practically a simulation of universal suffrage—the movement of five-district universal suffrage. This action was to demand the Hong Kong government quicken their pace for democratization. During the campaigns, the song was repeatedly played as background music to boost their morale. In 2014, Umbrella Movement occurred in Hong Kong with thousands of citizens occupied the main roads demanding a universal suffrage. This occupy movement lasted 79 days. Every night, people assembled and chanted this song to voice out their strong will to pursue freedom and dreams of democracy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfcuHQgAGXw). Lyrics of the , “hold tight my freedom in storms 風雨中抱緊自由”, was even written on huge banners hanged at the occupy site and in different campuses to encourage Hong Kong’s citizens.



Another political issue that swept around the industry and the whole city in the 1990s was the looming of 1997, the end of British colonial rule and the beginning of PRC sovereignty. What became classics that responded to this historical transition included Queen’s Road East/ Huanghou Dadao Dong 皇后大道東 composed by Tayu Lo (羅大佑) and penned by Albert Leung, Who Cares about 1997/Huazhini  97 話知97 sung by Sam Hui, and a painstakingly sarcastic Christmas song album Deng Xiaoping is Coming to Town penned, produced and sung by James Wong. All these songs, though interpreted by the singers in a generally satire and even vaudeville style, conveyed a deep-seated anxiety and apprehension of the new ruler—Communist Chinese government. Singing with Karaoke Despite the impending sovereignty transition of Hong Kong, as stated by PRC’s top leader Deng Xiaoping “horse race and dancing party still go on 馬照跑舞照跳”, Hong Kong’s popular cultural industry by all means is still a business world. In the Cantopop industry, singers/stars in the 1990s continued to be glorified and even deified through ­multi-­medium commercial activities, especially after the huge Hong Kong Coliseum was put in use for large-scale concerts. In addition, Cantopop stars were further bridged with people’s everyday life by another increasingly popular medium—Karaoke. Hong Kong Cantopop could never be separated with the Karaoke culture, which originated in Japan in the 1980s and swept all over East Asia in the 1990s, becoming one of the most important leisure enjoyment forms among ordinary people. According to surveys in 2005, 20% of youth population regarded Karaoke as their primary leisure activity. Besides, housewives make another major consumer group (Fung and Shum 2012, pp. 142–143).16 Due to the high cost of the equipment, at the beginning, Karaoke was only set in bars and restaurants before it became an affordable household device. Later, not only more and more ordinary families could afford household Karaoke equipment set, professional Karaoke bars were opened 16  Following the continuous downturn of the Cantopop industry, Karaoke industry also faced great challenges in the 2010s. Contrary to the good old days when customers were eager to visit Karaoke for the newly released Cantopop songs, today, people face difficulty in counting even ten new songs of the year. Instead, songs in the 1990s are still hit songs on the Karaoke billboard. See Apple Daily news (June 14, 2016) available from: http://hk.apple. nextmedia.com/realtime/finance/20160614/55226442 [14 September 2017].



and provided an affordable social occasion to consumers. Different Karaoke brands began to conquer the market, such as Red Box California, Neway and Big Echo. These Karaoke brands collaborated with different record labels in order to secure the latest hit songs of superstars available in the Karaoke bars. The privilege to provide the latest songs in the bar became the most important marketing strategy. In the Karaoke room, holding a microphone, singing along with the music and enjoying applause from the “fans” (your companions in the Karaoke chamber), every Karaoke singer could become a star. Fitto Record Company (飛圖娛樂) was the first record company that started releasing laser disc of Cantopop songs with Karaoke function (Fitto was later incorporated by the Emperor entertainment in 1999). The driving force behind Fitto was the high return rate. Fitto only needed to pay a 1000 dollar license fee to record companies in order to get the original song for Karaoke-purposed adaptation—removal of original voice and embedment of subtitles (Ng 2009, pp. 15–16). PolyGram also followed the pace and promoted its Karaoke albums, and by the mid-1990s, it had occupied over 50% of the market share. The Karaoke culture, which originated in Japan and soon got high popularity in Hong Kong, stormed markets in ­mainland China and Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s. Back in those days, Cantopop dominated almost all Karaoke chambers in these two Chinese regions. Even though many Cantopop fans seldom spoke a single Cantonese word, they were deeply drawn into the fascinating Cantopop world. James Wong once commented that the popularity of Karaoke was nothing but a “narcissist” Karaoke culture, which even vested adverse impact on the industry. For example, in order to encourage people to order/ consume certain songs in the Karaoke room (also as a way to increase the exposure and popularity of the stars among the audience), music composers would downgrade the complexity when they penned the songs, such as narrowing the range and trying to arrange the song with smoother flow without jumping scales or notes. By this means, songs become easy to pick up even for ordinary people who receive little professional training (Wong 2003, p.  152, p.  155). Commented by Chu and Leung (2013, p.  73), “The mere fact that Karaoke style was the dominant genre is not in itself the problem; we would instead stress that the primary issue was the reduction of space available for non-mainstream talent to flourish”. A Karaoke-­ song-­style gradually emerged due to a fact that “if a song couldn’t be popular in Karaoke, it won’t be a hit song” (Chu 2007, p. 6).



Alternatively, music critic Wong Chi-chung defended Karaoke and recognized it as a significant constitution of Hong Kong popular culture. Not all songs for Karaoke were easy works. There were a great number of consumers who welcomed challenges and would like to test their voice in Karaoke bars. Therefore, Karaoke cultivated a mass music culture and had indirectly offered a platform to those hidden singing talents. Karaoke also played a social function as it provided an emotional outlet to the mass urban dwellers who were living under high pressure (Wong 2007, pp. 68–69). While the role played by Karaoke in the whole Cantopop industry remained controversial, we could hardly deny the fact that Karaoke bars were profit-making entertaining venues, and songs included in the Karaoke machines were more products for daily consumption than artistic objects for appreciation. James Wong critically attacked the increasingly commercialized Cantopop industry in the 1990 by pinpointing series of alarming phenomena such as songs were deliberately packaged into gimmicks in MTV, singers were “forced” to perform different roles in advertisements. Truly, it is a fact that Cantopop was largely turned to a sought-after profit-­making business after it was legitimated as a mainstream popular cultural form since the late 1970s, and stars were even packaged like dolls to fit into different market sectors (e.g. the various images of Anita Mui). When Cantopop as a hugely lucrative business reached its climax in the 1980s and early 1990s, no one could deny its commercial nature and interest. All-Chinese-Song Movement The next chapter discusses a once commonly adopted trend of producing cover songs among Cantopop musicians since the 1980s. To take over as large market share as possible, record companies preferred releasing songs that were Japanese or Euro-American origin in order to lower the production budget as well as to heighten production efficiency. Amid this cover-­ song tide, at the beginning of 1988, a bold action called “All Chinese Song Movement” (中文歌運動) was initiated by top leaders at the long-­ existing Cantonese-centered broadcaster, the Commercial Radio. Commercial Radio, together with RTHK, were pioneers in the march promoting Cantopop since the 1970s. By advocating “all Chinese songs”, the broadcaster aimed at promoting originally composed Chinese songs (Cantonese and Mandarin) to, on the one hand, cultivate a wholesome



local music composition environment. On the other hand, such a gesture was understood to be a purge against the notorious copycat accusation toward the Cantopop industry. Once a major channel airing Euro-American popular songs, Channel 2 at Commercial Radio was turned into a total Chinese channel promoting Cantopop, including the new program called “100% Original Day” (百分 百創作日) that exclusively used for airing originally composed Cantopop. Such change was under the policy of “establishing a totally unbiased billboard” promulgated by its new manager Yu Cheng (俞琤). It was also in the same year that the “Ultimate Song Chart” (叱吒流行榜) and the annual “Ultimate Song Chart Awards Presentation” were launched to complete this movement. Aiming to be the professional and unbiased music billboard and award, the “ultimate” chart was measured according to the airing time of songs. This transformation taken by the Commercial Radio at the end of the 1980s, on the one hand, provided a wider platform for Chinese songs (Cantopop and Mandarin-pop/Mandapop from Taiwan) and largely encouraged original composition. In this regard, James Wong commented, some alternative music, such as band songs, got larger room to be seen by the public (Wong 2003, p. 163). At the beginning of the movement, the rate of listening increased by 30% (Chu 2001, p.  26). Hence, it was regarded a special case in Hong Kong that a commercial entity, instead of a government channel, took a step toward promoting/protecting local cultural production. On the other hand, criticized by some music critics, the increment of quantity did not mean the improvement of quality, as cover songs actually represented a type of creative fusion that mirrored Hong Kong’s cultural hallmark of hybridity (Chu and Leung 2013). In addition, oppositional voice toward the campaign attributed to its commercial purpose underneath. The Chinese song movement launched by the Commercial Radio by all means was part of its business strategy to better identify the niche in the market in order to attract more advertisers. In 1995, the Commercial Radio took another step forward by promoting “original songs campaign” (原創歌運動), airing only originally composed songs. This campaign addressed the pressing problem in that crucial period as Hong Kong was about to be handed to China’s rule in 1997. Local identity became a topic under heated debate. It was under such special context that the Commercial Radio introduced the localization campaign to promote local consciousness. Like its previous action—the



“all Chinese song movement”, this new step again showed a two-edged sword: encouraging originality but narrowing room for hybridity. As mentioned, it was a Hong Kong tradition that cover songs dominated the market due to the high efficiency of composition and profit making (Chu 2002). This trend resulted in the dominant role of the lyric writer in the industry. However, neither the industry nor the government has a long-term policy on local music development, and there was seldom enough training for those who were keen to join the industry as a music composer or a lyricist. Once the main door was shut for cover songs and extra room was made for original compositions, the supply of original songs could hardly catch up with the pace due to the critical shortage of new production and new manpower. The lack of high-quality local productions made many listeners to turn away from Cantopop. As a vicious cycle, only those possessing most production and promotion resources, the superstars/“heavenly kings and queens” were able to fill the air time. Commented by James Wong and Chu Yiu Wai, this action to promote original indigenous Hong Kong Cantopop but to exclude cover songs was an improper action in the Hong Kong context (Wong 2003, p.  155, p. 164)—yet the localization campaign was less as an attempt at constructing a local identity than a marketing tacit to gain more profile for the broadcaster (Chu 2005, 2009). Heavenly Kings and Queens Anybody who ever delved into Hong Kong popular culture could never turn his/her back to the four heavenly kings who stormed the industry during the 1990s: Andy Lau, Leon Lai (黎明), Jacky Cheung and Aaron Kwok (郭富城). With the retreat of a number of superstars such as Leslie Cheung and Alan Tam, record label companies and mass media had to discover new stars to fill the gap. Therefore, the “four heavenly kings” (四 大天王) banner was hoisted to highlight these four rising superstars to the society. Nevertheless, none of them was a novice to the entertainment industry. They had already begun their career in the industry earlier as television actor trainee, singer or dancer. Breakthroughs were soon created by these superstars. For example, Jacky Cheung’s Mandarin album (1993) broke the record by reaching 3 million sales of units on the first day of release. By 1995, this album had already sold 5 million units, making an unprecedented historical record among all Sinophone singers (Wong 2007, p. 135).



The making of the singing kings was no more than a commercial strategy. Being packaged as romantic lovers of the people, king of dance and king of singing, the four male stars were placed in an all-encompassing cross-medium stardom business. “The business of being a pop star is much more of a ‘job’ here (in Hong Kong) than in the West”—Matt Hackett, the former director of the Commercial Radio commented on the synergy between radio stations and singers in the grand projects of star making. As admitted by professionals in the Cantopop industry, large amount of attention and resource were vested on packaging, marketing and promoting the images of the stars rather than their skills (Tsang 1997). Romantic songs that were organized into Karaoke-friendly style became the main focus of these four “lovers of the people”. Not only their singing career but also a great amount of advertisements, concerts and award presentation ceremonies were the foci of their everyday life. What became classics in Hong Kong popular culture include Leon Lai and his series HGC telecommunication advertisements, Aaron Kwok and One2Free telecommunication, Andy Lau and Tao-ti tea beverage (McIntyre et al. 2002). It is understood that the four heavenly kings were prototypes of Hong Kong’s cross-medium stardom. In addition to manufacturing heavenly kings, stunning divas were also created to meet various market needs. Faye Wong (王菲), a singing queen born in Beijing and migrated to Hong Kong in the late 1980s, remains the legendary female artist in the Sinophone popular music industry. Originally being packaged as a girl next door, named “Shirly Wong/Wong Ching-man 王靖雯” singing romantic songs, Faye tried hard to eliminate her mainland Chinese accent and made herself a mainstream Hong Kong local pop star. In the 1990s, Faye took bold steps by turning over the whole original package. By changing her name back to Faye Wong and admitting her Beijing identity, in the late 1990s, most of her musical works were Mandarin pops, except for a number of Mandapop-turned Cantonese versions. She married a Beijing-origin rock star Dou Wei (竇唯) in 1996 and gave birth to her first daughter. In the following years, non-stop out-of-the-box news about Faye Wong even further strengthened her alternative stardom: she later divorced Dou Wei and started a romantic relationship with a young Hong Kong pop singer Nicolas Tse (謝霆鋒). Along with these astonishing personal changes were a series of songs featuring neither mainstream nor Karaoke style: psychedelic-like themes projected in electronic and rock style, such as her 1999 album and 2000 album . Instead of avoiding cover songs, which had been under copycat accusation, yet Faye Wong covered a number of Euro-American songs, which were largely alternative to Hong Kong’s cultural industry, namely British post-punk style and Irish alternative rock. Notably, Albert Leung penned most of Faye Wong’s songs since the late 1990s. Storming both the Cantopop and Mandapop realms, Faye Wong now has been regarded the diva of Sinophone—a legendary icon paving an alternative way of stardom rather than simply a pop star (Fung 2009). The 1990s marked a dazzling epoch of Cantopop as the four heavenly kings, divas and younger generation of pop stars swept all over Sinophone communities’ home and abroad, bringing along the most trendy voices from Hong Kong. According to the IFPI record, the annual production of disc reached 17 million units in 1995 and 18 million in 1996, accumulating higher than 1.8  billion Hong Kong dollars (approximately USD 0.23 billion) revenue (Wong 2003, p. 166). Stars Beyond the Singing Kings and Queens In a commercial society, mass production needs mass consumption— accordingly, a mechanism facilitated by commodified fetishism. Thus, the music industry had to rely upon idol worshipping and had to work closely with the mass media to keep the stardom thrive, which means record companies needed to spend lavishly on marketing via various broadcasting channels to attract wider spectrum of fans. Due to piracy and other side effects, sales of albums could no longer guarantee a good return for the record company’s investment. The major incomes of record companies then turned to side products, which made part of the cross-medium stardom manufacturing business: TV commercials and all sorts of commodities made for idol worship (Chu 2007, p. 5). As a result, the packaged/projected image of the stars—the “heavenly kings”—was more important than their singing and acting skills. Chu Yiu Wai further commented that not only did singers had to adopt to cross-­ medium stardom commodity fetishist campaigns, but also stardom managers, music producers, composers and lyricists were marketed to the society under the similar stardom logic. Since the mid-1990s, music composers like Mark Lui (雷頌德) and Chan Fai-yeung (陳輝陽) and lyricists such as Albert Leung and Wyman Wong (黃偉文) also attracted significant media spotlight (Chu 2007, p. 4).



Wyman Wong even held his own concert (a curation of his major works performed by a large band of singers) in the Hong Kong Coliseum in 2012. Though fanatic idol-worshiping was never new to a popular cultural industry, the fandom phenomenon became a lot more out of control and controversial in the 1980s and 1990s. Conflicts between fan clubs of the heavenly kings, Alan Tam and Leslie Cheung, in the 1980s and the “four heavenly kings” in the 1990s were commonly seen during promotional campaigns and award presentation ceremonies. In the cultural industry, the reception side—the audience and fan clubs—is so crucial to the whole business circulation model that the overly enthusiastic fandom became a two-edge sword. On the one hand, fandom is the catalyst of stardom to boost record sales and other consumption activities. On the other hand, conflicts among different camps impede development of the industry, such as little chance of corporation between the stars whose fans were in conflict, and the negative news from fan clubs very often overshadowed the music itself. Today, less fanatic, Cantopop fandom tended to be coopted by the production side. The Emperor Entertainment Group usually paid as much attention to fan clubs as to the stars themselves. The entertainment company would monitor fan clubs and actively build close relationship with them, such as providing sponsorship to fan clubs or bestowing privileges for fans to get in touch with their idols (Fung and Shum 2012, pp. 154–166). By this end, stardom and fandom have been integrated into a symbiosis to keep the stardom business and the whole Cantopop industry running. New Comers Since the mid-1990s, in addition to the most well-known heavenly kings and queens, a group of relatively younger singers such as Sammi Cheng (鄭秀文), Kelly Chan (陳慧琳), Miriam Yeung (楊千嬅), Eason Chan (陳 奕迅), Nicolas Tse 謝霆鋒 and a lot more were equally attractive to the mass audience, especially among young audience. Many of them, similar to the predecessors, were originally singing contest winners and later joined different record label companies. However, seeing the non-ceasing tide of promoting new stars to expand the already saturated market, cultural scholar Chu Yiu Wai commented that it was the best of times and the worst of times (Chu 2017, p. 105). Behind the still glimmering Cantopop stage, which, to many Sinophone singers, had always been a vital career mid-way station to before heading



to the global market, dark shades were slowly approaching to shroud the over-heated yet vulnerable Hong Kong popular culture market.

Downturn of the Industry Dimming the Neon If TV drama theme song and Sam Hui’s film songs marked the period since when Cantopop became a dominant melody in Hong Kong society, the journey of Cantopop business had gone through no more than half century. Throughout the decades, the cacophonic yet glamorous Cantopop realm had swiftly developed into a tremendously lucrative business and one of the significant pillars in Hong Kong’s popular culture industry. The paramount success was largely attributed to the cross-medium all-­ directional stardom production—the making of mega super stars. Solo superstars were marketed through different media channels to reach audience base as wide as possible, and thus the record companies could maximize their profits. Nevertheless, this superstar-driven prosperity in the late 1990s had quietly omened the last spark before the imminent prolonged dimming night. It is proved a painstaking transition that, as at its sales zenith in the 1980s, the Cantopop album sales record saw double-digit growth annually, while post-1998 local consumption outlay on sound recording products had already plummeted altogether with the declining economic fortune of the city, which had been ensnared in the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis (Centre for Cultural Policy Research 2003, p. 115) (Table 6.6). Table 6.6  Sales and revenue of Cantopop albums (1995–1998) Sales and Revenue of Discs in Hong Kong Year

Units of sales

Retail revenue (HKD)

1995 1996 1997 1998

17,003,800 18,001,300 15,000,000 10,000,000

1.853 billion 1.691 billion 1.353 billion 0.916 billion

Cited from: p. 169, Wong, JSJ 2003. The rise and decline of Cantopop: a study of Hong Kong popular music (1949–1997) (粵語流行歌的發展與興衰:香港流行音樂研究 1949–1997), Ph.D. Thesis, University of Hong Kong



In terms of the industry per se, the lack of product diversity in the mainstream stage, over-reliance on stardom business and the rapid advancement of music reception technologies other than CD album consumption clogged Hong Kong’s Cantopop industry into a vulnerable conundrum facing the forthcoming multi-directional challenges (e.g. Mandapop from Taiwan and mainland China). In the same line, in his PhD thesis, prominent lyricist and cultural talent James Wong underpinned the invasion of Mandapop aggregated the downturn of Cantopop industry at the threshold of the millenniums. He recalled, in the heyday, albums of Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung and Alan Tam could easily reach 400,000 units of sale at the beginning of album release. However, in the late 1990s, the situation was pessimistic when 5000  units of sales became the target (Wong 2003, p. 177). As a matter of fact, the sales of Cantopop have dropped drastically since the mid-1990s. Overall, Cantopop sales plunged from 9.2  million albums in 1996 to 4.9 million in 1998 (Chu 2007). Another significant reason from the industry’s side, obvious yet ironic, was that record companies in Hong Kong were too conservative to take any risk in promoting new and alternative-style talents but rather keeping the fame and market impact generated from a group of existing and mainstream-­ style superstars. Instead of trying different tactics, they tended to play safe by investing most resources in the limited number proved successful formulas. “The Hong Kong industry has had a history of extravagant artist deals and an extravagant media and promotional setup, which has been run in very high cost … when the industry can no longer to support this. Sadly reaction at the managing-directional level has been to simply cut prices”, commented by Rutherford at Warner Music (Tsang 1999). Exogenous factors haunted as well. An increasingly pressing issue throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s that led the Cantopop industry into nebulous situation was piracy and illegal duplication. Massive pirating activities in the market and parallel importation of royalty-protected products seriously attacked the market. The piracy issue surfaced as early as 1992 when new and low-cost CD dubbing technologies made pirating a highly profitable venture. To consumers, spending much less money on products that granted equally high quality as royalty-protected versions was tempting, and many of them turned to pirated products. Therefore, the loss for the industry because of piracy was estimated at 10–15% of sales during the first half of the 1990s. The issue of illegal duplication of album discs: “free” Internet download and MP3 dubbing raged the market



Album Unit Sales (millions) 18 16


14 12








8 6 4 2 0




Fig. 6.1  Recording industry in numbers—album unit sales (cited from: pp. 119– 121, Centre for Cultural Policy Research 2003, Baseline study on Hong Kong’s Creative Industries, The University of Hong Kong)

around the year 2000. It was estimated that 800 million dollars of income was lost every year due to different types of illegal duplication (Centre for Cultural Policy Research 2003, p. 116). What made the situation even more depressing was the passing away of three legendary stars in Cantopop: Roman Tam in 2002; Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui in 2003 and James Wong in 2004. Amid the death of Leslie Cheung (committed suicide by jumping from heights) and Anita Mui (died from cancer at the age of 40), Hong Kong experienced a year of historically dark age in 2003: the city-wide spread of the epidemic severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which killed 299 victims in Hong Kong had led all industries fall into severe plight. Hong Kong’s cultural industry was of no exception. From the IFPI record, even though the requirement of gold disc and platinum disc was adjusted in 2006 and 2008,17 which was much lower than in the 1970s–1980s, the number of artists whose albums were quali17  In 2006, facing the drastic decline of album sales throughout the market, IFPI adjusted the measurement by lowing the standard for Golden Disc (lower standard from 25,000 to 15,000 units) and Platinum Disc (lower standard from 50,000 to 30,000 units). In 2008, Hong Kong Recording Industry Alliance in which a couple of international record labels



Retail Value (million HKD) 1600 1400


1200 915.9

1000 800






600 400 200 0




Fig. 6.2  Recording industry in numbers—album retail value (cited from: pp. 119–121, Centre for Cultural Policy Research 2003, Baseline study on Hong Kong’s Creative Industries, The University of Hong Kong)

fied to be entitled gold or platinum disc seriously declined. In 2002, only the girl-duo Twins and solo star Joey Yung (容祖兒) got platinum award. After that year, it was until 2008 that Hins Cheung’s (張敬軒) album was listed platinum (30,000 and above units of sales)18 (Figs. 6.1 and 6.2).

Cantopop in the Millenniums Conglomerate-Driven Stardom The plummeting album disc sales and stardom commodification dampened the willingness of entertainment companies to groom new stars, not to mention other alternative-style singers or bands. This situation haunted different sectors in the whole industry since the late 1990s. While individual companies/investors show hesitance to capitalize in lavish star were included withdrew from the IFPI system, making the IFPI credibility under strong suspicion. 2017 onwards, IFPI disc award presentation has been suspended. 18  Refer to IFPI http://www.ifpihk.org/zh/content-page/award.



making, conglomerate-led horizontal-structure cross-medium star-making became a silver lining to the industry. Conglomerates could maneuver various entertainment sectors to groom different types of stars in a cross-­ medium promotion mechanism. The whole star-making process and the stars themselves were under the conglomerates’ full control. Compared to the previous satellite-driven cross-media stardom manufacturing, under the full-fledged conglomerate operation, the star-making process became a one-stop shop. Emperor Entertainment Group (EEG) presented to the market a perfect storm. In 1999, Hong Kong tycoon, Albert Yeung (楊受成) established the EEG by buying out Fitto Record Company. EEG started from Cantopop record industry and then gradually stepped into production and distribution of music publishing, star management and concert production. Following that, EEG extended their empire to film industry and established Emperor Motion Pictures (EMP) in 2000 and expeditiously became one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in Hong Kong. By then, EEG already took over the industrial leading role, which once was occupied by Capital Artists. Since its establishment, EEG recruited young talents for their long-­ term development. In 2001 summer, EEG made a breakthrough by presenting Twins, a duo-girl singing group featuring young, sweet and energetic girls—Charlene Choi (蔡卓妍) and Gillian Chung (鍾欣潼). Different from previous stardom business that attracted adult fans, Twins targeted an under-explored and under-estimated market—school teens. While adult listeners had already been under heavy struck since the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, teenagers made a sizable group under little influence as parents were still willing to spend money on kids’ daily consumption. This clear group of target audience, as a result, made Twins legendary success amid the industrial downturn. Featuring teenage romance and school life in their lyrics, Twins put an innocent and desirable youth dreamworld in vivid reality through their fresh looks and energetic performance in MTV. As the lyrics of their 2004 most hit song Love is the Most Important/Lianai Daguotian 戀愛大過天 describe: “I haven’t grown up yet, and so let me be shallow. I only know falling in love is all important to me 現在我未成年 讓我膚 淺 只知戀愛大過天”. Twins showcased a prototype of conglomerate-driven cross-medium stardom through their rapid growth in different cultural sectors: Cantopop, film and TV commercials. Twins released their first EP album in



the summer of 2001, which went platinum in its first week of selling. Without much doubt, the timing was under meticulous calculation as it was during school kids’ summer vacation. Then two members of Twins had their first full-length feature films, respectively, released after the summer: Funeral March/Changzai Woxin 常在我心 (2001) featuring Charlene and U-Man/Guaishou Xueyuan 怪獸學園 (2002) featuring Gillian, which were both EMP productions. They later became the most popular rising stars in 2002 and their filmic works topped in the Hong Kong film industry in 2003 and 2004. What’s more, their cheerful and energetic images trended on different media platforms as brand representatives of various kinds of products, including restaurants, food and drinks, electric appliances, cosmetics and so on. Twins soon became a Hong Kong household name in the new millennium. The Twins miracle was made into reality as they spent just one year to have their first concert held in the landmark Hong Kong Coliseum in 2002. Different from the superstar-making mechanism, the making of Twins inclines to a more participatory style that encouraged consumers to join in the process of star-making. Commented by Chu Yiu Wai, record companies looked for sponsors from different business sectors (e.g. Karaoke bars) and packed, in addition to the disc, coupons and gifts geared to the taste of teenagers. When you bought a Twins album, you could get far more than what you paid for if you used all of the coupons (Chu 2007, p. 11). Following the Twins fantasy, more duo-member singing groups were promoted to the market yet receiving much less popularity than Twins, namely Boyz and 2R. In 2008, Gillian Chung was involved in an obscene photo scandal: face of Gillian was shown coupled with male singer Edison Chan in obscene photos and the photos got viral on the internet. The scandal by all means was a fatal hit on Twins stardom, and two singers were shelved by EEG for two years. Despite after a few years, both the Twins members returned to the industry as either a solo singer or remaining in duo, scholar Chu Yiu Wai (2017, p. 165) pinpointed the case of Twins still showed the short-­ sighted vision of Hong Kong entertainment companies. The young duo-­ girl group was trapped by its teenager-focus strategy: after teenage fans grew up and shun school-life-themed Cantopop, Twins failed to transform into matured singers in order to maintain the fandom base. Nevertheless, in 2016, Twins LOL concert series were held in Hong Kong and worldwide. Full house was the Hong Kong Coliseum that audi-



Image 6.3  Photo Album of Twins. (Photo by the author)

ences, critics, mass media and music professionals who applauded to the achievement Twins had made in the Cantopop industry (Image 6.3). A Beautiful Sunset, But Never a Dawn19 At the threshold of 2000, two heavenly kings, Jacky Cheung and Leon Lai withdrew from local music award presentation events. This was under19  A metaphor made by Chu Yiu Wai that the  new heavenly kings and  queens emerged in  the  new millennium did bring new spring to  the  diminishing industry, but  the  whole



stood as a deliberate move by the two leading Cantopop superstars to provide more room for new talents. A number of singers, who actually made their debuts in the 1990s and even earlier, finally became more visible in the award presentation ceremonies. Male singers included Andy Hui (許志安), Edmond Leung (梁漢文), Hacken Lee (李克勤), Leo Ku (古巨基) and so on; and female singers included Joey Yung, Kelly Chan, Sammi Cheng and some others. In addition, newcomers continued to join the Cantopop field. For example, Hacken Lee, an experienced singer and artist, had already started his career as early as in the 1980s. However, at that time, he was very much outshined by Alan Tam and Leslie Cheung. After releasing several albums in the 1980s, his 1992 song Red Sun/Hongri 紅日, a life-­ inspiring theme while also a cover version of a Japanese song, became an all-time Cantopop hit. But after ebbs and flows, it was not until the early 2000s that Hacken Lee bounced back with a number of well-received albums. He collaborated with Alan Tam and presented “Alan and Hacken” (左麟右李) serial concerts. His popularity soon swarmed the market and he won the “best male singer” awards from different award presentation ceremonies throughout 2003–2005. Further new attempts were subsequently taken by Hacken Lee. He re-­ made his 1988 song City Hall Concert Hall/Dahuitang Yanzou Ting 大 會堂演奏廳 into a more extravagant version by having a live recording with classical orchestra accompaniment. Subsequently he released (2005) and (2006), among which the latter one was recorded in South Korea. These breakthroughs proved great success as Hacken Lee paved an alternative path for his career to become not only a pop singer but also a baritone singer popular among hi-fi listeners. Another example is Andy Hui, who won a prize at the TVB New Talent Singing Award in 1986 and soon contracted with the Capital Artists. However, he had struggled for more than ten years under the shadow of the heavenly kings and finally won his first Jade Solid Gold top award—the most popular male singer—in 2001. “New faces” in the millenniums, Eason Chan and Miriam Yeung, two young idols who both won prizes in TVB singing contests and joined Capital Artists in 1995, started their singing career and gained wide industry was definitely in the sunset, which could never be mistaken as dawn. See p. 158, Chu (2017).



recognition in the 2000s. Compared to Hacken Lee and Andy Hui who had fought for nearly two decades to become top singers, these two rising stars were relatively luckier. A nurse turned singer, Miriam Yeung soon got the TVB gold song award in 2000. In 2002, she was awarded the “most popular female singer” in Jade Solid Gold and Ultimate Award. Far from acting as a celestial diva, Miriam presented her image into a girl-next-door featuring in her 2000 song A Maiden’s Prayer/Shaonu de Qidao 少女的祈禱. Having acted in several films as daring, optimistic and humorous urban woman (e.g. Love Undercover/Xinzha Shimei 新紮師妹 2002, Drink Drank Drunk/ Qianbei Buzui 千杯不醉 2005 and Hooked on You/Meidang Bianhuan Shi 每當變幻時 2007), Miriam further reinforced her unique stardom through cross-medium stardom. From Capital Artists, EEG to Cinepoly Records, Eason Chan evolved from a typical “young lover” image, focusing on romantic ballads to a matured and versatile Cantopop master releasing albums full of non-­ mainstream personal characters. Soon after he won the New Talent Singing contest in 1995, Eason released his albums, such as (1998), which presented a number of hit songs. He started winning different awards in the following years. Quitting Capital Artists and joining Music Plus (of EEG) in 2000, Eason broadened his song genres and themes to a larger scale, releasing his signature song King of Karaoke-songs/K-ge zhi Wang K 歌之王 (2000), a song that criticized the dominance of Karaoke-friendly songs in the industry. However, the song ironically captured all karaoke fans and turned out to be a Cantopop classic winning a great number of awards (Chu 2017, p. 159). Later works from Eason’s 2001 signature album , which included songs such as Bicycle/Danche 單車, Shall We Talk and Monster/Guaiwu 怪物, showcased his exploration into different subject matters in his singing career. Contracted with the same manager as Faye Wong’s, Eason Chan under manager Katie Chan’s management developed his career globally, with his influence reaching to Taiwan and Japan (Wong 2007, pp. 89–90).20 With more matured skills and more diverse topics, Eason, during his Cinepoly 20  This was the similar strategy as promoting Faye Wong as a pan-Asian Chinese diva, the first Chinese singer holding individual concert in Tokyo Dome. This also mirrored the growing trend of “manager-star” synergy in Hong Kong. Successful managers (aka golden brand manager) even became celebrities, such as Katie Chan and Mani Fok.



age, reached new heights with albums (all carried English titles only) such as (2005), (2006), (2007), (2010) and (2015). Compared to earlier works, these album works, which carried English titles only, aimed at a larger Sinophone and international market. Counterpart to Eason, the king of Cantopop, Joey Yung, took the crown as the queen of Cantopop in the 2000s. A contracted singer of EEG, Joey Yung obtained her first success from the 1999 hit song Not Yet Known/Weizhi 未知. In 2003, her life-inspiring song My Pride/Wode Jiaoao 我的驕傲 swept city-wide awards. In the same year, she was awarded the best female singer at the Jade Solid Gold Award. Compared to her predecessors, Joey Yung took only a few years to climb to the top place. From 2003 to 2015, Joey had already won the “most popular female singer” award ten times—a new generation of Cantopop diva after Faye Wong moved her career base to mainland China. New Generation of Cantopop Crusaders Coming across the challenges from the rapid technological development, similar to many countries around the world, Cantopop disc record industry was forced to transform and the whole industry had to go through a dynamic transitional period. As exotic winds from Europe and North America continued to vest influential impact on popular music in Hong Kong, the gradually opening market of mainland China and Taiwan further brought forth Mandapop to the Cantonese market. The Korean wave which became a rage in the regional and even global pop music market by all means significantly threatened the already withering Cantopop business. However, amid the challenges from foreign music culture and demise of local Cantopop album sales business, new opportunities were brought forth along with the retreat of mega-stardom business and the advancement of internet technologies. In other words, new talents and alternative genres had larger room and wider platform to shine and further nourish in this field. In the Cantopop industry, singer-songwriter culture started to thrive in the territory, with the escalating popularity of a large group of talented musicians: At17—duo of two female songwriters Eman Lam (林二汶) and Ellen Loo (盧凱彤), pop singer Alfred Hui (許廷鏗), talented songwriter-­singer Charmaine Fong (方皓玟), folk song singer



Chet Lam (林一峰), publicly pro-democracy lesbian singer Denise Ho 何韻詩, Guangzhou origin pop singer Hins Cheung 張安軒, “singing queen of the people” Kay Tse (謝安琪), R&B master Khalil Fong (方 大同), novice diva voice Ivana Wong (王菀之), America born Chinese rapper MC Jin (歐陽靖), creative songwriter Pong Nan (藍奕邦), and a lot more to be named. Though some of this new generation of singers commenced their singing career earlier than the 2000s, they were doubtlessly Cantopop crusaders in the millenniums. Notably, quite a few of them in the recent decade had produced a large number of Cantopop works that touched the nerve of Hong Kong’s radically changing politics and even publicly voiced out their political stance. For example, Kay Tse, Charmaine Fong and Denise Ho brought to the market songs related to urban renewal, post-social movement trauma and advocacy of democratic pursuit. Kay Tse’s 2008 signature song Lucky Binary Street/Xitie Jie 囍帖街 was regarded a resonance to the ongoing controversial urban renewal project in Hong Kong. Charmaine Fong’s 2017 song If the World is not as Expected/Jiashi Shijie Yuanlai Buxiang Ni Yuqi 假使世界原來不像你預期, a total Charmaine composition, addressed to the trauma derived from the 2014 Umbrella Movement failure and projected a glimpse of warm encouragement between lines. During  the Umbrella Movement, Hong Kong’s city-­ wide scale pro-democracy social movement, Denise Ho joined hands with more than 30 local musicians and presented to the city Hoist the Umbrella/ Chengqi Yusan 撐起雨傘 in 2014. Eman Lam, Ellen Loo, Charmaine Fong, Kay Tse and young rock band RubberBand were included in this pro-democracy singer group. As mentioned in the introduction chapter, this song was awarded the “Most Popular Song” in the 2014 Ultimate Song Chart Awards Presentation, signifying a landmark in the Cantopop history. Yet a cultural influencer Denise Ho and other high-profile pro-­ democracy Hong Kong singers were later banned from entering the mainland Chinese market. Thanks to the advancement of internet technologies, which brought forth more diverse communication channels, nowadays, singers have discovered alternative promotional platforms other than traditional record label companies to make themselves seen by the people. Though under boycott from mainstream commercial organizations and from mainland China, Denise raised a crowd-sourcing campaign on the internet and finally hosted her “Dear Friend 2016” concert in Hong Kong Coliseum.



In addition to solo singers, singing groups of various musical genres were still active and some even became extremely popular among the mainstream Cantopop industry. LMF (Lazy Mutha Fucka 大懶堂), an alternative Hip-Hop group which had already debuted in the late 1990s, depicted grassroot life in a way that was seldom seen in Hong Kong’s mainstream music world—filled with four-letter words. A number of rock bands, namely RubberBand, Supper Moment and Dear Jane, once independent bands hailed in the mainstream Cantopop realm after becoming members of prominent record labels. Since 2008, these rock-pop bands gradually turned to be regular awardees in different city-wide Cantopop award-presenting ceremonies. Notably, RubberBand in 2016 returned to its independent track again and in 2018 released a remarkably well-­ received song See You in Future/Weilai Jian 未來見, a widely popular work that stimulated echoes from mass Hong Kong working class. From the song, a reminiscence of teenage good old days was hinted, emitting a touch of sweet warmth to thousands of those struggling to make a living in the big city. Platforms out of the commercial entertaining tycoons included a growing number of civil organizations, some of which were launched by ­established and veteran cultural workers. These civil platforms aimed at encouraging and grooming young talents who had little resource to get into the music industry or who wished to develop his/her alternative style. For example, Renaissance Foundation was established by lyricist Chow Yiu Fai and singer Anthony Wong (a member of rock band Tatming)21 as a non-profit cultural entity that provided support to up-and-coming musicians. Through organizing various cultural activities such as saloon, creative summer camp and music composition contest, the 2012 founded Renaissance Foundation dedicated to sponsoring independent creation and incubating new networks of cultural industries and establishing a professional platform to facilitate entry into international markets22 Debatable yet thought-provoking was scholar Chu Yiu Wai’s commentary on the 1990s Cantopop industrial development that it is the best of times and worst of times (Chu 2017, p. 105). The millennium Cantopop crusaders, though seldom received as much resource to build up the stardom as their predecessors, showed a fresh and, to a large extent, brighter 21  Chow Yiu Fai penned a large number of songs for Tatming since the 1980s, with poetic and sensual sketches of gender sociological allegory. 22  See Renaissance Foundation website http://rfhk.org.hk/en/.



Image 6.4  Chow Yiu Fai and Anthony Wong. Chow Yiu Fai, cultural scholar and lyricist and Anthony Wong, a member of the Tatming duo band, are founding members of the Renaissance Foundation. The non-profit Renaissance Foundation aims at nurturing new musicians and engaging social issues with music. (Courtesy to Chow Yiu Fai)

face of the industry. As many of them penned their own musical works and had paved their own promotion channels, more authentic personal sentiments and political sensitivity were embedded in the songs. Different from decades ago when Hong Kong singers opined strong concerns about democracy in mainland China, in the millenniums, the locally born and raised Hong Kong popular musicians showed stronger inclination to tell stories of their own homeland—Hong Kong—its distinctive cultural, political and social landscape that gave birth to generations of cultural workers (Image 6.4).



Concluding Remarks From the 1950s when the title “Cantonese popular song” first appeared on shellac disc cover as promotional tacit, to the 2010s when buzzwords like “Cantopop is dead” haunt in the cultural industry, Cantopop has gone through drastic ebbs and flows in the territory where equally radical political-social changes take place. Similar to the film and television industry, Cantopop juxtaposes different social transitional moments and mirrors dynamic life in this city. As early as the pre-war era, primitive form of Cantonese popular songs—songs performed in Cantonese and arranged in a non-operatic and casual style were already given birth to. The east-­ west fusion embedded in Cantonese opera performance had cultivated a sense of hybridity, originality and creativity among a large group of Cantonese-speaking musicians, who at the same time composed or performed minor tunes, folk songs and film songs for daily leisure instead of operatic repertoire. From Cantonese opera, Cantonese films to primitive Cantonese popular songs, the circle of then popular culture vividly lived the Hong Kong characters to real life: meeting place of multiple cultures and a Sinophone culture hub. The wind of fusion never stopped at historical junctures such as the Sino-Japan war; instead, influences from Euro-American and Japanese music culture continued playing vital role in Cantopop industry. While the long existence of Cantonese popular songs had sowed seeds for the later booming of Cantopop, the fad of Euro-American rock band culture projected a series of ready-to-use musical toolkits to local musicians: ways of natural voice singing, expressive vibes and rhythms, AABA melodic and lyric arrangement and orchestration accompaniment for emotive power projection. By integrating these tools with Cantonese traditional musical elements, 1970s music talents from different cultural sectors joined force and gave birth to Hong Kong’s unique Cantopop. Joseph Koo, James Wong, Sam Hui and a lot more to be named drove this cultural trend to much further popularity under the driving forces of broadcasting, television and film. Hong Kong’s vibrant mass media and cultural industry in the 1980s incubated the heyday of Cantopop stardom business. Cantopop, as well as the Hong Kong-style all-encompassing cross-medium stardom system, which was although under profound Japanese influence, became leading trendsetters across the East Asian region. Cantopop songs and singers/ artists stormed home and abroad, attracting thousands of fans screaming



to adore the idols. Hong Kong Coliseum became the crucial stepping stone for those who aimed at the global Sinophone market. In the next chapter, the influence of Cantopop in the neighboring regions and across the global Sinophone market will be addressed with more details. Though a kaleidoscopic-like band scene once largely enriched Hong Kong’s pop solo-singer-dominant situation, its short life amid the bombarding of mega-star fantasy business yet revealed a significant shortcoming of Cantopop industry—a vulnerable mono-focus mode of business expansion. Exogenous factors soon led the business into a plight. The rising popular culture business in neighboring regions challenged the Cantopop crowning position. The advancement of information acquisition technologies as well as the regional financial crisis led to a serious plummeting of Cantopop album sales and thus the withering of extravagant star-making system. Stardom manufacturing, a business that relied on lavish investment from big companies, once was the most important pipeline drawing huge profit and a lifeline to Hong Kong’s Cantopop business. The withdrawal of big entertainment entities in this regard, on the other hand, made room for more diverse and alternative talents to be seen and heard. The new voices, different from their predecessors, were vested with heavier societal implications. This change was derived from Hong Kong’s trembling politics which was by all means ensnared in the intensified Hong Kong—China dynamics. James Wong concluded in his doctoral thesis that 1997 marked the end of Cantopop. Ironically, 1997 as well epitomized the end of British colonial rule in this Cantonese-dominant city and the beginning of Hong Kong to learn to be a special administrative region under the PRC rule. While as shown in this chapter, 1997 never meant an end. Instead, similar to the yet prolonged transitional period Hong Kong people had experienced, Cantopop musicians as well made every endeavor on the rocky road. Discussion Questions

1. Popular music is context sensitive. In different periods of time, contents and formats of popular music vary significantly. How do we understand and distinguish Cantonese popular song and Cantopop? 2. Once a lucrative business, superstar-making became a crucial component of the industry. However, failure to sustain this lucrative system also made an important cause to the downturn of the industry. How do we critically examine the role of star making? 3. Any suggestion for the future development of Cantopop?



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Worlding Cantopop

Chapter Overview It is said that the term “Cantonese popular song” (yue yu shi dai qu 粵語 時代曲) was first introduced in the early 1950s as a promotional tactic for Wo Shing record company to meet the growing interest in the new style of songs among the mass audience. Before that, a term “new song 新曲/ 新體歌” was already introduced by the New Moon company in the 1930s. Cantonese popular song in that age, branded as new song, was already characterized by the hybrid usage of Eastern and Western instruments, a practice highly correspondent to contemporary Cantopop (Wong 2014, p. 19; Yung 2006, pp. 219–220). Notably, a primitive form of cross-medium entertainment production and promotion was already spotted in the pre-war era. As the invention of film technologies had wide-opened people’s horizon, technological evolution that led to significant change of “music material” and hence had profound influence on music composition format fundamentally transformed the sonic landscape. The technological factors, on the one hand, jettisoned the spatial-temporal confoundment of music enjoyment. At the threshold of the twentieth century, Cantonese music already traveled across oceans carried by border-crossing opera performers and by the then latest communication technology—gramophone and disc. As a port city receiving cultures from multiple directions, Hong Kong harbored all these changes as well, and was made into a hub of international record © The Author(s) 2020 K. J. Wang, Hong Kong Popular Culture, Hong Kong Studies Reader Series, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981